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Loggers and cattle trample rain forests

Poverty in developing countries is only part of the reason rain forests are disappearing.

The other part is the buying habits in countries such as the United States.

Buying a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant can contribute to deforestation. So might buying a dining room table made of teak, eating a banana or framing a picture for a friend.

Dozens of products used in affluent countries come from the tropics.

Some come directly from the forest and would become difficult to obtain if the rain forests are greatly diminished. Forest products include spices such as cinnamon, black pepper and vanilla; nuts such as cashews and macadamia nuts; and oils such as palm, eucalyptus and coconut that are used in such products as perfumes, detergents, candles and cough drops.

But other products that come from tropical areas are destroying the rain forest. Rain forest activists say people in affluent countries could help slow rain forest destruction by avoiding products that depend on destroying the rain forest.

Harvesting tropical woods is among the worst offenders. The sale of tropical woods accounts for nearly $8-billion in business worldwide each year.

Traditional lumber practices are tremendously destructive. Tropical wood is so valuable that loggers often will destroy large tracts of "junk" wood to reach a few valuable trees such as teak and mahogany.

"The amount of destruction is very big compared to what they take," said Marco Gandesegui, communications director for the Panamanian environmental group, ANCON.

And there are few laws requiring loggers to manage the forests.

In Panama, for example, a law requires loggers to purchase a seedling for every rain forest tree they cut down. But the law doesn't say anything about planting the trees. So loggers often purchase hundreds of seedlings then just throw them away, according to ANCON.

Cattle grazing is the other great destroyer of rain forests. And the hunger for beef in the United States is a major cause of the destruction.

Experts say that as much as one-third of Amazon rain forests destroyed in the past 30 years were cut down to create grazing land to raise beef for export. Huge expanses of land in Costa Rica and other Central American countries have been cleared for the same purpose.

"Beef cattle are killing the Earth," said Chris Wiley, who works in Costa Rica for the New York City-based Rainforest Alliance. "If people would just reduce their beef consumption by 50 percent, it would be a tremendous help."