Doughnut Day Downer: Palm Oil In Pastries Drives Deforestation

Play associated audio

On National Doughnut Day, it's hard to imagine how our love of doughnuts might be contributing to deforestation halfway around the globe.

But here's the connection: You know that oily smudge left on your fingers after you polish off a doughnut? That's not just sugar. It's also palm oil.

The major doughnut retailers — from Dunkin' Donuts to Tim Hortons and Krispy Kreme — fry their sweet treats in palm oil, or in blends of oil that include palm oil.

And a new report, "Deforestation Doughnuts," by a rain forest protection coalition called Forest Heroes, concludes that leading doughnut companies are sourcing some of their palm oil from suppliers who are clear-cutting rain forests and destroying wildlife habitat and carbon-rich peatlands.

"The doughnut industrial complex is lagging behind," campaign director Glenn Hurowitz tells us.

He points to many big companies such as Kellogg, Mars and Hershey, which have meanwhile "taken steps to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains."

As we've reported, Kellogg made a splash earlier this year when it leaned on its palm oil supplier, Wilmar, to move forward with a No Deforestation, No Exploitation palm oil production policy.

We reached out to three leading doughnut retailers — Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme and Tim Hortons — who were named in the Forest Heroes report. And all of them told us that they are moving toward deforestation-free sourcing of palm oil.

"We are actively working on this issue," Olga Petrycki of Tim Hortons writes in an email. "And, ultimately, our goal is to purchase 100 percent of palm oil from verified sustainable sources."

Dunkin' Donuts, as we've reported, has already pledged to use 100 percent sustainable palm oil. In an email, Lindsay Harrington of Dunkin' Donuts says, "We are in the process of drafting a formal palm oil policy" that will be available by the end of 2014.

Krispy Kreme weighed in as well.

"We recognize the growing social and environmental concerns over palm oil production," Lafeea Watson of Krispy Kreme tells us, also by email. And she says the company has a "commitment to only source [palm oil] products for our U.S. locations from suppliers who are certified members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and those who can guarantee compliance with all the sustainable palm oil production methods as defined in the guidelines."

The RSPO was created to promote sustainable palm oil, and it describes itself as having the world's toughest standards for producing palm oil. (Its principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production are listed here.)

But recently, the RSPO has been criticized for having weak standards. And there are now efforts underway by nonprofit groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and Rainforest Action Network, and a few palm oil producing companies, to raise the bar on sustainability and push for more innovation. They call themselves the Palm Oil Innovation Group.

In its launch statement, that group says the current RSPO standards do "not go far enough to adequately address the most critical issues facing the industry today."

Among those issues, according to the Palm Oil Innovation Group, is the practice of clearing peatlands for new palm plantations. According to Greenpeace, one of the POIG members, clearing forests and draining and burning peatlands to grow palm oil release more greenhouse gas emissions than burning fossil fuels. POIG also mandates in its charter that all plantations already on peatlands maintain them to prevent additional emissions.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Theeb' Looks At Middle East History Through The Eyes Of A Bedouin Boy

The Oscar-nominated film is set in 1916 Saudi Arabia, a pivotal time in the region. Director Naji Abu Nowar says he wanted to explore "how strange and surreal it must have been" for the Bedouins.
NPR

Beer And Snack Pairings: A Super Bowl Game Everyone Can Win

Which beer goes with guacamole? How can a brew complement spicy wings? Two craft beer experts share their favorite pairings and help us take our Super Bowl snack game to the next level.
NPR

5 Things You Should Know Before the New Hampshire Primary

New Hampshire has a reputation for strong voter participation and independents. It's really easy to get on the ballot, and it has had a better track record of picking GOP nominees in recent years.
NPR

OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?

It can be too easy for students to Google an assignment before they stop to think about it. Some researchers say we're losing our critical thinking and memory skills by relying on the search bar.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.