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Government announces plans to unleash hefty fines on intrusive companies — here's what to know

The controversial ingredient is linked to so much deforestation.

The controversial ingredient is linked to so much deforestation.

Photo Credit: iStock

At the end of 2023, Indonesia announced that it would fine palm oil companies operating in its rainforests a total of over $310 million, according to a report from Reuters.

The Dec. 22 announcement came from Firman Hidayat, an official from the ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment. Hidayat did not identify the specific companies being fined.

However, other recent actions by Indonesia's government give context to this decision. In 2020, it created a new set of rules regarding oil palm plantations operating in areas designated as forests. Out of 17 million acres of total oil palm plantations, 3.3 million hectares are located in what should be forests. The owners of about half of that land (1.67 million hectares) have been identified.

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Palm oil is found in roughly half of the packaged products in supermarkets. Despite — or maybe because of — how common it is, it's a controversial ingredient because it's linked to so much deforestation. The EU recently passed a law to ensure imported products, including palm oil, aren't sourced from these deforested areas in the hope of slowing down the destruction.

However, rainforests worldwide are still under threat — a major problem, given how much of the rain that falls on America may come from clouds generated in African forests. Also, many of the world's species can only live in these rainforests, and it takes many centuries to restore these complex and ancient habitats once they are cleared away.

Last year, Indonesia announced that under its new rules, an initial 200,000 hectares of plantation will be returned to their original state as forest land, with the potential for more to follow. That leaves most of the deforested land still in limbo. 

According to Reuters, companies that submitted paperwork and paid fines by November 2023 still had a chance to continue cultivating the land they claimed.

Individuals around the globe can help fight deforestation by choosing products free from palm oil. Companies like Palmless have bio-designed alternatives that are essentially the same product without the deforestation required to produce it.

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