What you buy at the supermarket can harm the orangutans on the other side of the world. Or it can help them. That was the message from two girl scouts last summer when they set out to convince top brass at Girl Scouts USA to stop selling cookies that are made with palm oil.
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.
(Last week we told the story of a mother orangutan and her baby who were rescued literally in the nick of time as a band of hunters approached them with knives drawn. Gangs like this make money from the palm oil industry for getting rid of the animals as they cut down the forest for new plantations.)
Yesterday, Rhiannon and Madison were in New York City to receive a United Nations award for their work in bringing attention to the threat posed to orangutans by the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia
“It is exceptional to be considered and we’re both delighted, thrilled and humbled to win the award,” Madison said.
The two girls’ campaign led to Girl Scouts USA and their suppliers, the Kellogg company, agreeing to introducing sustainable palm oil by 2015 and to support palm oil producers that work under sustainable guidelines. But by 2015, things will be much worse for the already seriously endangered orangs.
The two girls say the policies are a step in the right direction, but that more needs to be done.
“We are trying to keep the pressure up to ensure the Girl Scouts find an environmentally and socially responsible palm oil to be used in these in the cookies,” Madison said.
The pair have launched an online petition with Change.org to call on Girl Scouts USA to completely eliminate unsustainable palm oil from their cookies.
Here’s a video they made last October to explain their campaign.
What you can do: Check the labels on foods and cosmetics. Don’t buy products with palm oil. And join the girls’ petition at Change.org. (Note: This may put you on an e-mail list unless you decline.)