Halloween Candy: A trick or treat?

Written By: Nicola Shaw, JGI Canada Volunteer & Amanda Fuchs, JGI U.S.
Category: From The Field

As October 31st creeps into view, Canadian families all around the country are getting boxes of candy ready to hand out to their neighborhood trick-or-treaters. What many don’t realize is that in making these purchases they are contributing to one of the most damaging industries worldwide: palm oil.

Although 85% of global palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, the palm oil tree itself (Elaeis guineensis) is indigenous to West Africa. Being the highest yielding and least expensive vegetable oil on the market, it’s not surprising that the industry has caused tremendous environmental and ecological damage. Globally, palm oil contributed to approximately 270,000 hectares of tropical rainforest conversion and 10% of the global total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2011.

Palm oil plantations can be found in South America and Africa, but are causing arguably the most unimaginable amount of damage all over Southeast Asia (particularly in the biodiverse regions of Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra) where they are only growing in size and number. For species like the orangutan, found only in Southeast Asia, this demand will cause them to disappear from the face of the earth. Since primates have long lifespans, complex behavioral ecology, and few offspring, they are some of the most vulnerable animal groups in the rainforest. Without any incentive to restrict the expansion of palm oil plantations, but a lot of incentive for, “more, more, more!”, orangutan and other wildlife populations are constantly faced with habitat loss, illegal capture, and trade.

Growing demand for palm oil has decimated the natural habitat for species like the critically endangered orangutan.

More than half of all consumer products in North America contain palm oil. It hides behind many different names – some even as general as “vegetable oil” – which make it nearly impossible to identify and avoid. But nearly is the keyword! A local Toronto entrepreneur has taken matters into her own hands and creates alternatives to mass-produced candy that is flying off the shelves. Another Toronto based initiative, kickstarted by the Toronto Zoo, urges consumers to choose treats that protect rainforests and think about orangutans and other primates by doing their due diligence before buying candy for the holiday.

Some suppliers of the delicious goodies we all love already use certified sustainable palm oil, so you don’t have to sacrifice affordability, fun, and tradition to make environmentally-friendly decisions. For example, Mars, Hershey’s, and Frito-Lay, all have an RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) label, which indicates that they are safe and sustainable sources of palm oil. If you stick to these brand names this Halloween, you can be sure you are getting treats without the tricks!

Photo credits: Vinicius Amano& Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash