SCRIPT: The problem with palm oil [October 9, 2018]

John Millen |

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Voice 1: The Best Buys supermarket group has recently announced that it is going to stop using palm oil in all its own-brand products. This decision has been made in an attempt to slow down the destruction of topical rainforests in southeast Asia.

Voice 2: Palm oil is a cheap oil that is present in hundreds of products. It is found in bread, pastry, biscuits, cereals, ice cream, sweets, soap and detergents. In fact, more than half the products sold in our supermarkets contain palm oil.

Voice 1: Best Buys say that the ingredient is found in one hunded and forty-five of their own-brand products. But they are replacing it with sustainable vegetable and nut oils. Customers, they say, will not notice the difference.

Voice 2: So, what is the problem with palm oil? 

Voice 1: Palm oil is made from the fruit of trees called African oil palms. The trees originally came from Africa, but they were introduced into Indonesia and Malaysia in the late 19th century. It’s from these two regions that manufacturers all over the world buy the palm oil to put in their products.

Voice 2: Oil palms now grow naturally in Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests, but they are also grown on big plantations created to produce more palm oil. Small family farms also grow palm oil trees and sell the oil to larger companies.

Voice 1: Palm oil is a very efficient crop, and farmers can produce a lot more of it per hectare of land compared to other oil crops such as coconut or soya bean. What’s more, palm oil trees require fewer pesticides and fertilisers to help them produce a large amount of fruit.

Voice 2: Cultivating oil palms provides jobs for thousands of small farming communities in Indonesia and Malaysia, giving them a chance to get out of poverty, earn more money and enjoy a better standard of living. Demand for palm oil is projected to double by the year 2050. Very good news for the palm tree growers of Southeast Asia.

Voice 1: So why has Best Buys said that they are going to stop using palm oil in their products?

Voice 2: To prepare the land to plant oil palms, farmers cut down and burn areas of natural forest. Palm oil production is said to be responsible for more than ten per cent of Southeast Asia’s deforestation. Burning down forests destroys the habitats where plants and wildlife live, and drastically alters an area’s natural balance.

Voice 1: Recent figures show that orangutan numbers in Borneo more than halved between 1999 and 2015 because of deforestation carried out to create new palm tree plantations. 

Voice 2: In Indonesia, one hundred and forty-six football pitches worth of rainforest are destroyed every hour to make room for palm trees. When we look at facts like these, the problems for the future of palm oil are obvious. Best Buys have decided that removing palm oil is the only way they can make sure that their products do not contain oil which is produced in a way that calls for forest destruction. It’s a drastic move. But another answer to the problem is for manufacturers to check that the palm oil they use comes only from controlled sources. 

Voice 1: It is up to the palm oil industry to show concern for the environment so that we can all enjoy the product without worrying that environmental damage has been involved in its production. We need to encourage other supermarkets to follow Best Buys’ example and stop using palm oil in their products. Well done Best Buys for leading the way!