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If you’re in the U.S., your ramen noodles might become a lot safer for forests

  • Scott Paul, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Forest Heroes Campaign, says that instant ramen noodles contain more palm oil by weight than any other product on the market. That means that ramen noodles are having a major impact on rainforests.
  • But it looks like that’s about to change, at least when it comes to ramen in the U.S. In September, AAK, a producer of “value added vegetable oils” headquartered in Sweden, acquired California Oils, a major supplier of palm oil in the United States.
  • AAK subsequently announced that its No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) palm oil sustainability policy will be applied to its new subsidiary — which supplies palm oil to the manufacturers of as much as 84 percent of the ramen noodles sold in the U.S.

Americans might not even be aware of the impact their instant noodles are having on the world’s tropical forests — and soon they may have less reason to worry about it, anyway.

Often considered a staple mainly for cash-strapped college kids in the U.S., instant ramen noodles are actually more popular stateside than you might realize. According to estimates by the World Instant Noodles Association (yes, that’s a real thing), Americans consumed more than 4.2 billion servings of instant noodles last year — the fifth-most in the world, behind just Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, and China/Hong Kong.

All those noodles contain a lot of palm oil. In fact, Scott Paul, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Forest Heroes Campaign, says that instant ramen noodles contain more palm oil by weight than any other product on the market. That means that ramen noodles are having a major impact on rainforests, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, two tropical forest countries that collectively produce as much as 80 percent of the world’s palm oil.

“[F]or years manufacturers have been importing palm oil that too often has resulted in forest destruction, purchased from companies that have expanded their production by cutting down rainforests, draining carbon-rich peatlands and exploiting local communities,” Paul said in a statement.

But it looks like that’s about to change, at least when it comes to the majority of the instant ramen made in the U.S. In September, AAK, a producer of “value added vegetable oils” headquartered in Sweden, acquired California Oils, a major supplier of palm oil in the United States. AAK subsequently announced that its No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) palm oil sustainability policy will be applied to its new subsidiary.

“No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation is core to the palm sustainability policy of AAK,” the company said in a statement. “Following AAK’s acquisition of California Oils Corporation the acquired company will adopt and implement the group policies of AAK, including the policy relating to sustainable palm oil sourcing. This will enable current and future customers of California Oils who have not already done so to adopt similar sustainability policies and/or progress on their implementation.”

AAK said in another statement that implementation of its NDPE policy at California Oils is already underway, and that the company expects to have “engaged with all direct suppliers in relation to demonstrating full implementation of the policy” by March 31, 2017.

Scott Paul says that this announcement has the potential to transform the ramen noodle market in the U.S. and, perhaps, beyond. California Oils supplies palm oil and a variety of other oils to the U.S. food industry, including ramen makers Toyo Suisan, Nissin, Sanyo Foods, and Nongshim, which together account for 84 percent of the instant noodle market in the U.S. and at least 22 percent of the global market.

“A major supplier of palm oil to the U.S., and to the U.S. instant noodle manufacturing sector in particular, is cutting deforestation, peatland destruction, and human rights abuses from its supply chain,” Paul told Mongabay.

“This is a major opportunity for the U.S. customers of California Oils, companies such as instant noodles manufacturers Toyo Suisan, Nissin, Sanyo Foods, and Nongshim, to adopt similar policies — not just for their U.S. operations but worldwide. Such a commitment would generate some of the first demand for zero deforestation palm oil from 80 countries where Toyo Suisan, Nissin, Nongshim, and Sanyo Foods sell instant noodles. Hopefully, other instant noodle manufacturers such as Unilever and Nestle would follow suit.”

Boxes of ramen at a Costco in South San Francisco, California. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.