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Scouts Say Cookies Harm Orangutans

Baking up a plan to save rainforests from palm oil plantations

Girl Scout campaigners Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Two Girl Scouts are campaigning to get the palm oil out of Girl Scout cookies.

Teenagers Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva had been studying orangutans as part of a project to earn their Girl Scout Bronze Award four years ago. That was when they learned that the rain forests of Indonesia – home to the orangutans and a host of other wildlife – are being torn down to make room for palm oil plantations. The palm oil goes into numerous baked goods and other “fun” foods, and the orangutans and their kind are now threatened with extinction.

The two girls launched their own campaign to save the forests from the food industry, and last week, they met with Girl Scout officials at the organization’s USA headquarters in New York City. At the end of the meeting, the officials agreed to see if they can replace the palm oil with something else or get it from rain forests that haven’t been cleared for palm oil plantations. The girls also met with the organization’s Chief Executive Officer Kathy Cloninger.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said 16-year-old Madison. “It’s taken a lot of work to get to where we are today.”

Amanda Hamaker, product sales manager for Girl Scouts of the USA, said the organization plans to reach out to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups about palm oil production.

Palm oil has taken the place of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in many baked goods because it doesn’t contain dangerous trans fats.

“We need to define for ourselves what sustainability is,” Hamaker said, adding that once the organization has learned more, it will arrange a call with Madison and Rhiannon.