When it comes to Girl Scout cookies, the most complex debate tends be focused on whether Thin Mints or Samoas taste better. Perhaps a meager attempt will be made in favor of Shortbread, but this suggestion will be quickly shunned. As the debate roars on, two young Girl Scouts have raised a much more urgent issue after realizing that the cookies they were so eagerly selling contain palm oil.
Palm oil plantations have emerged in recent years as a cash crop used for fuel and food; palm oil is found in about half of all processed foods in the U.S. Production of the crop can destroy rainforests and, as Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen note, endanger the orangutan population.
Michelle Desilets, executive director of the Orangutan Land Trust, told Mongabay.com, "We have found orangutans beaten to death with wooden planks and iron bars, butchered by machetes, beaten unconscious and buried alive, and doused with petrol and set alight. Since 2004, more and more orangutans in our centers have been rescued from areas within or near oil palm plantations, and over 90 percent of the infants up to three years of age come from these areas."
In the "Early Show" video segment below, Girl Scouts sales manager Amanda Hamaker argues, "Our bakers don't believe that there is a viable alternative to produce the taste, the quality, all of the attributes which our consumers and our members require and expect out of our cookies."
HuffPost Blogger Glenn Hurowitz writes about a recent "Day of Action" taken by Girl Schout cookie buyers, who logged onto the organization's Facebook page to call for a change in the cookie recipe. According to Hurowitz, the Girl Scouts USA PR team erased the comments from the page, and after censorship criticism, created a new thread, writing, "Our bakers exclusively source palm oil from members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil."
Some palm oil plantations seem to be making an effort to improve their reputation. The United International Enterprises Estate in Malaysia is the first to be certified by the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. They are reportedly working to make palm oil more eco-friendly by focusing on jungle regeneration and boosting bio-diversity. Critics say this isn't enough.
According to Hurowitz, Roundtable membership simply requires a $2,000 check per year. "Being a member of the RSPO doesn't mean your products are any better for the environment, protect a single orangutan, or save a single tree. Also, for the record, membership doesn't mean that the palm oil in the product isn't grown on a plantation using slave labor or child labor, serious and seemingly widespread problems in the palm-oil industry."
HuffPost Blogger Josephine Carothers is the granddaughter of cookie founder Ethel Jennings Newton. She writes that her grandmother would be ashamed of the organization today:
She would oppose the use of palm oil in Girl Scout cookies -- a degradation of the product, by the way, as they originally called for butter -- because the cultivation and export of palm oil is destroying rainforests in Southeast Asia and the lives of girls in those countries. She would abhor the fact that girls "overseas," as she would have put it, are made to suffer in poverty to benefit their American counterparts.