Many native forest species threatened by booming palm oil industry

Saturday, May 28, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: palm oil, forest, health news

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(NaturalNews) The food industry's positive transition from unhealthy hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils to healthy palm fruit oil is also contributing to the destruction of native forests and the species that live in them, according to new research out of Queen Mary, University of London. Published in the journal Ecology Letters, the new study explains that the growth of palm oil plantations is eating up large swaths of native forest lands, which is in turn threatening the viability of numerous animal species, as well as genetic diversity.

Used in various foods, soaps, and other consumer goods, palm oil is a great natural oil that remains in a stable, semi-solid state at normal room temperature. And while many processed foods still contain oils from soy, cottonseed, canola, and others that have been artificially hydrogenated in order to remain stable (which renders them as trans fats), palm oil is a great natural alternative that also provides numerous health benefits (

Unfortunately, rising demand for palm oil has led to massive deforestation throughout Asia, which Matthew Struebig, author of the new study, and his colleagues allege is destroying native animal species. They say that unless palm oil producers make a more substantial effort to protect forests and at least preserve some forested areas in between individual plantations, some species could go extinct.

"We found that in order to retain the numbers of bat species seen in pristine forest, forest patches had to be larger than 650 hectares," said Struebig. "However to retain comparable levels of genetic diversity, areas needed to be greater than 10,000 hectares."

Genetic diversity refers to individual species' ability to adapt to their environments over time, and exemplify new and varying genetic characteristics. These unique differences in characteristics are what preserves a wide variety of different species, ensuring that one dominant species does not eventually take over all others.

"We found that while more species existed in larger forest patches, even small fragments contributed to overall diversity," added Struebig. "Therefore, conservation managers should aim to protect existing small fragments, while seeking to join up small forest areas to maximize diversity."

Much worse than palm oil, though, are genetically-modified (GM) soy plantations that are eating up native rain forest lands throughout South America and other areas. Additional factors like toxic pesticides and growth chemicals are destroying both the land and the native populations that live in and around that land (

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