✔️ A dash of wildlife loss
✔️ A dollop of unsustainable palm oil
✔️ A vat of carbon emissions
All wrapped up in a bow.
Unappetising isn’t it. If we could peel back the shiny foil and see what really goes into our cheap chocolate, perhaps we would think twice before we tuck in. As it is, it’s all-too-easy to ignore.
The colourful wrapping and low prices do hide the real cost of Easter Eggs.
The hidden ingredients
Our growing appetite for cheap chocolate in the West is driving deforestation around the tropics. And the bitter truths missing from the ingredients list? Deforestation, child labour, slavery, wildlife loss and huge carbon emissions.
Mass cacao production is a growing threat to the world’s rainforests. Trees are being cleared on a huge scale to plant the new cacao trees, often employing child labour and workers who are paid very little for their work. And with rainforest soils quickly losing nutrients once the original forest is cleared, the slash and burn cycle perpetuates with more deforestation, entrenching local people further into poverty.
In the last half-century, palm oil production has increased from around 0.5 million tonnes per year in 1962 to 48 million tonnes per year in 2008. This ubiquitous oil has found its way into so much of what’s for sale; over 50% of products on the supermarket shelves, and many Easter Eggs now contain palm oil.
Experts warn that if we don’t become more conscious of our consumer choices, demand for the oil is expected to more than double by 2030, and triple by 2050.
What’s all that got to do with rainforest?
The £1 spent on an Easter Egg can be having innumerable cost to rainforest. But it’s hidden from sight, and it’s hard to admit that the delicious treats are causing untold harm.
The unsustainable palm oil is a carbon double whammy and wildlife eviction notice.
First up, rainforest is burned to clear space for palm plantations. These fires often get out of control and set light to vast stores of carbon in peat that may burn for years, unlocking vast amounts of carbon.
It’s a growing concern. It’s estimated that 98% of Indonesian forest will be gone in 9 years due to palm oil plantations. It’s not just restricted to one region, the demand for palm oil means more and more plantations are being found in the Amazon Forest and areas of the Congo Basin.
Once the trees go, the wildlife follows. It may be shaped like a bunny, but the unsustainable palm oil in your Easter chocolate is destroying wildlife habitat from the majestic orangutan to the smallest insects. Not only are the intricate ecological connections of natural rainforest lost, but the newly planted homogenous palm trees are also incredibly hostile to wildlife, with few, if any, species making the palm plantations their habitat.
What can we do?
The answer isn’t an easy one to stomach. Palm isn’t actually the worst vegetable oil. It yields four times per hectare as much as rapeseed and requires a tenth of the pesticides and fertiliser that soya requires. Therefore, boycotting all use of palm oil is not the answer. Instead, support its sustainable production and crack down on buying food that needs all this added oil.
We also need to support community-led cacao production and exert our influence as consumers. Take a look at the information available and avoid the Easter Eggs with palm oil (it can be listed as vegetable oil so use this guide to help.) Put your money where your mouth is and use your food choices to force chocolate companies to pay attention to the demand for sustainable palm oil products and shade-grown cacao.
Cool Earth is supporting the production of shade-grown chocolate in their Peruvian partnerships. Grown this way sustainably for years, the community produces chocolate that keeps their rainforest standing. By getting a fair price for their beans, the community have a reliable income that increases resilience to turn loggers, and palm plantation owners away.
Having linked the growers with local cooperatives and international export links, Cool Earth’s Peruvian team have helped rainforest communities form long-lasting, self-sustaining links that help increase resilience long term.
We’re not exaggerating to say you can make a huge difference. Avoid forest-destroying chocolate, turn down unsustainable palm oil and support forest communities. It’s the key to saving the rainforest.