Valentine's Day is coming soon, and while you wouldn't normally associate a zoo with Valentine's Day candy, one southern Indiana zoo is asking you to avoid certain brands of candy that contain an ingredient they say is "one of the biggest factors for deforestation in some of the world's most biodiverse forests."

Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville put the request on its Facebook page on Monday, saying that many popular candy brands contain palm oil which is used in a wide variety of products including lotions and other health and beauty products, and obviously, food.

What is Palm Oil and How is It Made?

Thanks to its versatility, palm oil is used in many products. In addition to those mentioned in the paragraph above, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) says it's also used in the production of detergents and to a smaller extent, biofuel. According to the European Palm Oil Alliance, it's harvested from the fruit of oil palm trees that grow in regions around the equator. Once fully ripened, the fruit is around the same size as large olives. It's taken to a mill where it's processed, then taken to a refinery where the oil is extracted from the fruit using the process illustrated in the video below.

The Problem with How Some Palm Oil is Harvested

The WWF says the problem with palm oil harvesting is the deforestation it causes as palm oil farms clear out large areas of forest space to set up their operations. Over the years, this has resulted in the loss of the natural habitat for the animal species that are native to those areas, along with an increase in air, water, and soil pollution as fire is commonly used to clear large areas. There are also concerns over the treatment of workers and the use of child labor in some of the regions where the oil is harvested.

In 2004, the non-profit organization, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in an effort to make the production of palm oil more eco-friendly. The group laid out guidelines for the production of palm oil that slows or stops deforestation altogether, protects wildlife and the environment as a whole, and treats workers fairly. The organization says it has "thousands" of stakeholders from every step of the process signed on to work towards a goal of having all palm oil used in consumer products be sustainable.

How to Find Out if Your Valentine's Candy Has Palm Oil

While Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden encourages you to avoid products with palm oil in their Facebook post, they understand that may be difficult to do since it is used in so many products. So, if you can't avoid it, they suggest purchasing products that are made with certified sustainable palm oil. How do you do that? Well, like almost everything else, there's an app for that.

The PalmOil Scan app was developed by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It allows you to scan the barcode of the product you're looking to purchase and will tell you if that product contains sustainable palm oil as well as if the company that makes it is using procedures to make sustainable oil.

cheyenne mountain zoo
cheyenne mountain zoo

The app is free to download in both the App Store and Google Play.

[Sources: Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden on Facebook / European Palm Oil Alliance / World Wildlife Foundation / Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil]

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