07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's in Your Food that is Destroying Rainforests?

Following the release of a new report exposing Cargill's role in rainforest destruction, activists in Minneapolis occupied the offices of the nation's largest private agribusiness company -- Cargill. The activists held a banner reading: "Mr Page: Rainforest Destruction Stops With You," asking CEO Gregory Page to take immediate action to halt Cargill's rainforest damaging palm oil plantations.

Activists Occupy Cargill HQ, Shutting Down Business for Cutting Down Rainforest

The report: "Cargill's Problem with Palm Oil" documents Cargill's direct destruction of rainforests in Indonesia to produce palm oil. It turns out that Cargill, who both owns their own palm oil plantations in Borneo and buys and trades palm oil from other dubious companies, has mowed down an area of rainforest the size of Disney World (including the hotels) and replaced it with palm oil plantations.

Cargill publicly profiles their palm oil plantations in Indonesia as models of sustainability, where they follow rules set out by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (the only available certification body -- of which Cargill is a certified member). However, on their own Indonesian plantations, Cargill is violating those RSPO rules - clearing and burning rainforest, polluting waterways, taking land from communities without permission or compensation and destroying carbon-rich peat swamps (a major trigger for climate change).

Of course, Cargill denies that they have done any of this and honestly, no one wishes that they were telling the truth more than we do. Pictures, maps and on the ground evidence don't lie, however. Even Cargill admits that they "developed" the land on their plantations, although they claim that the forest they cut down was not "zoned as forest."

That's silly. All forests between the tropic of Capricorn and the tropic of Cancer are scientifically classified as tropical rainforests. What's more, the Indonesian rainforest that Cargill is destroying is one of the most important, but highly threatened, tropical forest regions on the planet. It is home to critically endangered orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and spectacular birds that exist nowhere else on Earth. The expansion of palm oil plantations is tightly linked to the record-breaking rate of rainforest destruction in Indonesia, and, as a result, is a major threat to animal habitats.

On top of that, the extremely high rate of deforestation has bumped Indonesia up to being the third largest global warming polluter in the world, after China and the United States.

Almost half of all consumer goods sold in grocery stores contain palm oil, a thick, long-lasting oil that is sourced mainly from tropical nations like Indonesia and Malaysia. Its use is widespread and increasing around the world, but particularly in the United States, where its consumption has tripled in the last five years.

Since Cargill sells this palm oil to most of the nation's largest food companies -- including General Mills, Mars, Kraft, and Nestle - it is critical that they take a leading role in cleaning up their atrocious supply chain and setting the standard for rainforest protection.

Cargill's Minnesota executives may be in denial, but the cost if Cargill doesn't clean up its act is nothing less than the future of Indonesia's rainforest, the existence of endangered rainforest animals like the orangutan and the climate.