Resisting With Your Shopping Cart: How Consumer Choice Fuels Pandemics and Destroys Rainforests

Palm Oil Greenwashing

Imagine a world where your everyday purchases contribute to the spread of deadly diseases and the destruction of irreplaceable forests. This isn’t a dystopian science fiction series —it’s actually happening right now. The products we buy, like palm oil and meat, are closely linked to deforestation, which in turn drives the spread of zoonotic diseases. This article explores the hidden connection between mass consumerism, zoonotic diseases, and the devastation of tropical landscapes, revealing the threats faced by species and indigenous peoples. But there is hope—real solutions are emerging.


A Domino Effect: Deforestation and Zoonotic Diseases

Picture this: a lush, vibrant rainforest teeming with life, now reduced to barren land. This destruction is not just an environmental tragedy—it’s a health crisis. Many of the deadliest viruses, including COVID-19, SARS, Ebola, and HIV, originated in tropical forests. As humans encroach on these habitats, we create the perfect storm for viruses to jump from animals to humans. Many scientists are now connecting the dots: stopping deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade could prevent human health crises and zoonotic spillovers of pathogens from animals to humans.

How Consumerism Drives Deforestation

Think about your last trip to the supermarket. Did you know that many of the items in your cart, like palm oil-laden snacks and meat products, are linked to large-scale deforestation? Palm oil, found in about 50% of packaged products, is a major driver of this environmental catastrophe, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Colombia, Brazil and Uganda. Similarly, the demand for meat leads to the clearing of vast tracts of forest. These are later used for grazing animals used for their meat and animal feed crops like soy and palm oil. This relentless deforestation not only destroys wildlife habitats, but also increases the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Silent Shouts: Wildlife and Indigenous Peoples

In the shadows of tropical deforestation, thousands of species teeter on the brink of extinction. Not just orangutans but also countless birds, pollinating insects, mammals both large and small and reptiles. They are losing their homes and their lives. Consumers’ supermarket choices put these forgotten species closer to being lost forever.

Indigenous communities face the same threats. They are guardians of rainforests and other ecologically important landscapes, thriving in mosaic landscapes of their own making for many millennia. These indigenous peoples are being displaced and dispossessed of the lands their ancestors helped to cultivate and protect. Their rich cultures, languages, traditional medicine and knowledge systems are at serious risk as their lands are stripped away for palm oil, soy and meat deforestation.

Reasons to Hope: Agroecology and Indigenous Sovereignty

Agroecology is an approach to farming that blends ecological principles with agriculture, fostering biodiversity, resilience, and ecological balance. This method empowers indigenous peoples to live in harmony with rainforests by respecting their traditional knowledge and land management practices. For instance, in the Amazon, agroforestry systems where crops are interspersed with native trees allow for food production while preserving forest ecosystems. In Borneo, adopting agroecology can help indigenous communities resist the destructive impacts of palm oil plantations. By cultivating medicinal plants and local crops within the forest, they can maintain their cultural heritage and protect biodiversity, offering an alternative to ecocidal palm oil monocultures. This approach not only supports their livelihoods but also safeguards the rich biodiversity of their ancestral lands.

Borneo’s Biodiverse Forests: Nature’s Miraculous Pharmacy

Borneo is home to an array of medicinal plants that have been used for centuries by indigenous communities for their healing properties. One notable example is Eurycoma longifolia, commonly known as Tongkat Ali or Malaysian ginseng, which is widely used as a remedy for malaria, fevers, and as an aphrodisiac.

Studies have shown that Tongkat Ali can enhance testosterone levels and improve male fertility (Ismail et al., 2012). Another significant plant is Orthosiphon stamineus, known as Misai Kucing or Cat’s Whiskers, which is traditionally used to treat kidney ailments and diabetes. Research indicates that Misai Kucing possesses diuretic properties and can effectively manage blood glucose levels (Adam et al., 2009).

Additionally, the Borneo rainforest is home to Calophyllum inophyllum, which produces a unique oil known as Tamanu oil. This oil has been proven to have antibacterial and wound-healing properties, making it a valuable natural remedy for skin conditions and injuries (Pribowo et al., 2021). Furthermore, Zingiber zerumbet (Bitter ginger) has shown promise in reducing inflammation and treating various ailments, supporting its traditional use in Borneo (Chan et al., 2024). These examples highlight the rich pharmacological potential of Borneo’s flora and the importance of preserving these invaluable resources.

Empowering Indigenous Stewardship

True conservation is decolonised. This means powerful institutions recognise, respect and empower indigenous stewardship and self-governance. Indigenous communities have invaluable knowledge and a deep ancestral connection to their lands. Supporting their rights to land ownership and having them at the centre of conservation leadership efforts is critical. This not only helps preserve biodiversity but also strengthens the cultural and social fabric of these communities.

Act Now for a Healthier Future

The link between consumerism, zoonotic diseases, and deforestation underscores the urgency of rethinking our consumption patterns. By boycotting palm oil and meat and supporting indigenous conservation and agroecology efforts, we can mitigate the risks of future pandemics, protect biodiversity, and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples. Together, we can drive meaningful change and ensure a healthier planet for all.

Your Supermarket Choices Matter

Join the movement to resist and fight back with your shopping choices. Take action and boycott palm oil, go plant-based and #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife to create a brighter and better future for both humans and rainforest animals.

Actions to Help Rainforests

Join the #Boycott4Wildlife Movement:

Join the movement on social media by sharing posts from Palm Oil Detectives to your network on platforms like Twitter, Mastodon, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Use hashtags #BoycottPalmOil and #Boycott4Wildlife to spread awareness and support the cause.

Contribute Stories:

If you are an academic, conservationist, scientist, indigenous rights advocate, or animal rights advocate, share your stories on the Palm Oil Detectives website. Highlight the corruption of the palm oil industry or efforts to save animals.

Read and share inspiring stories like those of wildlife artist Juanchi Pérez, anthropologist Dr. Sophie Chao, and health physician Dr. Evan Allen to amplify their voices.

Supermarket Sleuthing:

While shopping, take photos of products containing palm oil and share them on social media to expose greenwashing and ecocide. Use relevant hashtags to hold brands accountable.Additionally, highlight and celebrate products and brands that are palm oil-free to encourage better consumer choices.

Take to the Streets:

Participate in guerilla marketing campaigns and street awareness campaigns, contact Palm Oil Detectives to find out more.

References:

Adam, Z., Jantan, I., & Zaiton, Z. (2009). Diuretic properties of Orthosiphon stamineus Benth. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 124(1), 154-158. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19375494/

Budhi, S. (2022, November 2). Eyewitness story by Dr Setia Budhi: The last village. Palm Oil Detectives. https://palmoildetectives.com/2022/11/02/eyewitness-story-by-dr-setia-budhi-the-last-village

Chan, J. S. W., Lim, X. Y., Japri, N., Ahmad, I. F., & Tan, T. Y. C. (2024). Zingiber zerumbet: A scoping review of its medicinal properties. Planta Medica, 90(3), 204–218. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-2219-9801. PMCID: PMC10869203. PMID: 38035621.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10869203

Cross, D. T. (2022, February 3). Palm oil substitutes can offer beleaguered rainforests a fighting chance. Sustainability Times. https://www.sustainability-times.com/environmental-protection/palm-oil-substitutes-can-offer-beleaguered-rainforests-a-fighting-chance/

Hall, C. M., Vang Rasmussen, L., Powell, B., Olesen, R. S., & Meyfroidt, P. (2022). Deforestation reduces fruit and vegetable consumption in rural Tanzania. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(10), e2112063119. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2112063119

Leite, F. H. M., Khandpur, N., Andrade, G. C., & others. (2022). Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity. BMJ Global Health, 7(3), e008269. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2021-008269

Ismail, S. B., Wan Mohammad, W. M., George, A., Nik Hussain, N. H., Musthapa Kamal, Z. M., & Shokri, S. (2012). Randomized clinical trial on the use of PHYSTA freeze-dried water extract of Eurycoma longifolia for the improvement of quality of life and sexual well-being in men. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 429268. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23243445/

Morand, S., & Lajaunie, C. (2021). Outbreaks of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases are associated with changes in forest cover and oil palm expansion at global scale. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.661063/full

Palm Oil Detectives. (2023, May 10). Ultra-processed foods are trashing our health – and the planet. Retrieved from https://palmoildetectives.com/2023/05/10/ultra-processed-foods-are-trashing-our-health-and-the-planet/

Palm Oil Detectives. (2021, July 10). These are the forgotten animals of the secretly destroyed forests. Palm Oil Detectives. https://palmoildetectives.com/2021/07/10/these-are-the-forgotten-animals-of-the-secretly-destroyed-forests/

Palm Oil Detectives. (2022). What is causing the latest outbreak of Ebola in Uganda? Retrieved from https://palmoildetectives.com/2022/10/16/what-is-causing-the-latest-outbreak-of-ebola-in-uganda/

Pribowo, A., Girish, J., Gustiananda, M., Nandhira, R. G., & Hartrianti, P. (2021). Potential of Tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum) Oil for atopic dermatitis treatment. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, Article 6332867. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/6332867. PMCID: PMC8782620. PMID: 35069754.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35069754

University of East Anglia. (2021, September 1). Indigenous and local communities key to successful nature conservation. EurekAlert!. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/927141

Vittor, A. Y., Laporta, G. Z., & Sallum, M. A. M. (2020, June 4). How deforestation helps deadly viruses jump from animals to humans. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-deforestation-helps-deadly-viruses-jump-from-animals-to-humans-139645

Yarlagadda, T. (2021, March 25). Why peanut butter could trigger the next pandemic. Inverse. https://www.inverse.com/science/deforestation-disease-outbreak-study

Author Bio

Written by Athena, Palm Oil Detectives’ Founder. Palm Oil Detectives is a global collective of animal rights and indigenous rights advocates. Together we expose the devastating impacts of palm oil, gold and meat deforestation on wildlife and indigenous communities. The Palm Oil Detectives #Boycott4Wildlife movement empowers activists, scientists, conservationists and creatives worldwide to #BoycottPalmOil and advocate for genuine alternatives to ecocide. Read more: https://palmoildetectives.com/
https://x.com/PalmOilDetect
https://m.youtube.co/@Palmoildetectives
https://mastodonapp.uk/@palmoildetectives

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