- September 12, 2018
- Posted by: TESOL Direct
- Category: Sample Lessons
Palm oil. It’s in 50% of all packaged products in supermarkets. There’s no getting away from it. Or is there? The frozen-foods company Iceland became the first UK supermarket to ditch palm oil this week and the media was all over it. Why is this big news? Does palm oil really kill orangutans? Should you be ditching it too?
It’s big news because Iceland has concluded that ditching palm oil from all of its own- brand products is the only way it can guarantee those products are not contributing to deforestation. Palm oil itself doesn’t kill destroy forests and kill orangutans, but deforestation to make way for vast palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia destroys their habitat.
Recent studies show Bornean orangutan numbers more than halved between 1999 and 2015 with the loss of more than 100,000 individuals. All three species – Bornean, Sumatran and even the recently discovered Tanpanuli orangutan – are critically endangered.
The production of palm oil drives deforestation and causes people and wildlife to suffer. Ultimately it threatens the planet by accelerating climate change. But if all companies stopped using palm oil, demand would switch to another vegetable oil – perhaps soy, rapeseed or sunflower. When grown in vast quantities all these alternative oils have serious environmental problems, including rainforest destruction. The reason palm oil’s popularity rocketed in the first place is due to it being a very land-efficient crop. You get a lot of oil per hectare, it requires relatively few pesticides and it can be used in many products. It’s used in everything from lipstick to soap, toothpaste to chocolate.
Greenpeace is working hard to raise awareness of this problem. In 2010 some of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world pledged to end their role in deforestation for palm oil. They promised to ensure that by 2020 they would not be getting their palm oil from producers that destroyed rainforests. Sadly, these companies have not kept their promises.
Earlier this year Greenpeace challenged 16 big brands to publish exactly which traders and mills they bought palm oil from. So far 11 have come clean, admitting they are buying from forest destroyers in the process. Yet to reveal are Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Cussons and Smucker’s.
It’s important for companies to drop suppliers from their supply chain that are known to be destroying tropical forests and destroying local settlements. They also need to then take full responsibility for proving that every drop of palm oil they buy has come from responsible producers who are not destroying rainforests. However, not one company has done this so far.
However, consumers are demanding change. Supermarkets fell over themselves to come up with solutions in response to consumer outrage over plastic. Just as ocean life is threatened by plastics, local settlements are being destroyed, and orangutans, Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinoceros are dying because of deforestation for palm oil. Many animals are close to extinction.
So, will Iceland’s pledge to cancel its order for 500 tonnes of palm oil per year really make a difference when the UK currently buys 400,000 tonnes per year? Or is it just a drop in the ocean? Iceland may be just one medium-sized company in the UK, but its decision has created a lot of media interest. If companies want to avoid being shunned by their customers in favour of palm oil-free alternatives, and the industry wants to shield itself from more blanket bans, it’s time to reform.
Edited for class use from an article on the Greenpeace website by Alison Kirkman – 12th April 2018
Suggested lesson plan for students at intermediate level.
A recording of the passage.
A printed version of the text.
Step 1: Have you heard of palm oil? In what products do we find palm oil? (margarine, soap, lipstick, ice-cream, face cream products, cosmetics in general, many food products, candles, detergents, toothpaste, chocolate).
Step 2: Where is it grown? (Brazil, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia, Africa and other areas.) Over the last 20 years, growing palm oil has become an important environmental problem.
Step 3: Listen to the recording and then tell me a) what are the advantages of growing palm oil and b) what are the disadvantages of growing palm oil in large plantations.
Step 4: Feedback from the students: (a) lot of oil per hectare; it requires relatively few pesticides; it can be used in many products; b) destruction of forests and local people’s settlements.)
Step 5: What sort of settlements are being destroyed do you think? Does this matter? Wouldn’t it be better if the people living in forests lived in towns? What happens, do you think, when local people protest?
Step 6: Listen again and tell me what these numbers refer to:
2010 / 2020
16 / 11
Step 7: Listen again and then tell me how growing palm oil hurts you. (It speeds up climate change and global warming.)
Step 8: Hand out the written text. Ask the students to read it silently.
Step 9: Ask the students to explain the meaning of these words:
Step 10: If you think that growing palm oil in vast plantations is damaging local people, endangered animals and the climate, what can you do about it? Tell the students to work in groups of 3 or 4 to discuss for six minutes. Feedback from the students. List their suggestions on the board. Note also the suggestions below.
- As of December 2014, labelling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. A quick check on the packet, box or bottle will tell you what a product contains. However, in the case of non-food items, such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. If you find that a product contains palm oil, a quick Internet search will turn up palm oil-free alternatives.
- Contact companies you believe still use palm oil.
- Start a petition.
- Demonstrate outside a company making products with palm oil.
- Demonstrate outside a supermarket selling certain products with palm oil.
- Write an article in your local paper.
Step 11: Write a passage of about 250 words discussing the issues around palm oil.