(WILDLIFE CONSERVATION) Palm oil is now present in more than half of consumer packaged goods found in grocery stores across the U.S., including chips, cookies, cake mix, canned soup, baby formula, and more. The market’s increasing demand for palm oil has threatened the existence of rainforests around the world, specifically those located in Southeast Asia.

Destruction of the earth’s ecosystem also means endangering the lives of iconic species who live there, including the red-listed Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. Orangutans are said to be among our closest kin in the animal kingdom, and we’re slowly killing the species off without even realizing it.

The survival of orangutans is being increasingly threatened by society's growing rate of palm oil consumption. Photo Credit: WWF
The survival of orangutans is being increasingly threatened by society’s growing rate of palm oil consumption. Photo Credit: WWF

Today’s population of orangutans exists only in shrinking areas of rainforests in the Sumatra and Borneo islands of Southeast Asia. About 80 percent of these rainforests has already been destroyed by human hands. Researchers on both islands concluded that without drastic change in plantation practices, both orangutan species face inevitable extinction.

There are currently an estimated 104,700 Borneo orangutans left in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has labelled them as an endangered species, yet their numbers continue to fall. More than 20 percent of the small forest area they call home has already been dedicated to palm oil plantations, with additional areas also at risk.

Researchers predict that half of the Borneo’s habitat will be lost due to the development of palm oil plantations, timber plantations, and other factors. This is without accounting for illegal expansion of industries further into the forests than they are allowed.

The destruction of rainforests has had terrible implications for the wellbeing of the natural world as well as ourselves. Photo Credit: world.edu
The destruction of rainforests has had terrible implications for the wellbeing of the natural world as well as ourselves. Photo Credit: world.edu

The story is even more disheartening for the Sumatran orangutan, of which only 7,500 remain in the wild. The IUCN Red List has categorized the Sumatran orangutan as critically endangered, meaning the species faces the highest possible threat of extinction.

These animals are one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates and we’re destroying their only habitat left on this Earth. If nothing changes soon, they will become extinct.

Palm oil plantations also harbor extreme environmental threats. Among the issues raised included peatland drainage and drastic carbon emissions, repercussions from the smoke and fire used to clear the land for planting with palm oil, as well as contributions to climate change.

Worldwide, tropical deforestation contributes as many emissions to climate change as those from the global transportation sector. That’s equivalent to the pollutants coming out of the engine of every car, truck, ship, plane, and train on the planet.

So the question remains: how do we stop the disappearance of our closest kin from the face of the planet, as well as the destruction of the precious amount of rainforests we have left? The answer is simple. We need to raise public awareness about the issue, calling for the people to take a stand against the “Snack Food 20” companies, requiring them to take safe and regulated measures in palm oil manufacturing.

The fate of orangutans rests largely in our hands and our simple day to day decisions.

SIGN THE PETITION: Tell the Snack Food 20: Cut Palm Oil, Not Rainforests

And make sure to check out these five ways to stop food companies from profiting off a devastating ingredient, provided by Salon:

1. Raise Awareness With Warning Stickers

For people who want to do more than send an email or join a petition, RAN has started a national effort called the Palm Oil Action Team. As part of one of the team’s actions, RAN will send you stickers that say “Warning, This snack food may contain orangutan extinction.” Place those stickers on Snack Food 20 products in your local grocery store and raise some grassroots awareness.

2. Download App that Helps You Boycott Palm Oil

The El Paso Zoo developed an App called the “Palm Oil Guide and Scanner.” Scan the barcode on any given product in the grocery store, and the app will tell you whether or not palm oil is an ingredient. Boycott made simple.

3. Join ‘The Power Is In Your Palm’ Campaign

Since there are only 60,600 orangutans left in the wild—in Sumatra and Borneo—RAN is trying to get one person per orangutan to call on the Snack Food 20 to cut conflict palm oil. For this photo petition campaign, titled “The Power Is In Your Palm,” RAN is asking that 60,600 people take a picture of their outstretched hand with a hashtag written on their palm that says “in your palm.” Upload the photo to the webpage, which will be up in one week, and once all 60,600 images are collected RAN will send them to the offices of the Snack Food 20 CEOs.

4. Email, Call and Petition the Companies

Picking up the phone or sending a letter is one of the most effective ways to pressure the executives in charge of these companies. You can sign up on Rainforest Action Network’s email action list, or do some research yourself—made easy via the RAN website—and start sending emails and making phone calls to the higher-ups in charge of the Snack Food 20.

5. Tweet and Facebook “at” and “about” (@, #) each individual company and brand.

Sutherlin says the Snack Food 20 are “scanning news about their brands, and looking at social media feeds. “If enough people tweet to them and about them and [participate in] other ways we’re offering for them to get involved, the companies will listen.”

Click here for more ways to take action.