As you will have probably seen already, the supermarket Iceland has recently released a Christmas advert which has been banned from airing on TVs nationwide. The advert in question is a short film named ‘Rang- tan’, which aims to show the role that palm oil has in deforestation. The short film is touchingly dedicated to the 25 orang-utans that we lose every day.
The advert itself is a promotional ad for Iceland’s plans to remove palm oil from all of their own brand products, making it the first major UK supermarket to do so. Therefore, the ad’s removal from TV seems pretty unfair - after all, no one is really in doubt that deforestation is bad for the environment. Moreover, the article was removed for its political nature, suggesting that the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) seemed to think that deforestation was a contested political idea, instead of a heartbreaking reality. A petition to get the advert on TV reached 700,000 signatures. The video itself has over 13 million views on Facebook.
However, there is more to this story than initially meets the eye. ‘Rang-tan’ was not banned because of the messages in the advert itself, but because of its association with Greenpeace, an overtly political group. This is something that was almost inevitable; after all, Greenpeace had already run the short film on their own platforms before it was picked up by Iceland. It’s hard not to be somewhat suspicious of Iceland’s intentions through this - after all, the advert has undoubtedly received far more coverage due to being banned than it ever would have done if it had simply run freely on TV.
It’s important to note how worthy a cause palm oil really is. The effect that palm oil farming has had on rainforests and the orang-utan population has been devastating, with the top three countries contributing to palm oil production destroying 270,000 hectares of forest per year to clear space to plant palm trees. Moreover, the use of carbon-rich soils (or peatlands) to plant them really ups the carbon output of such farming, making them the second highest product in terms of carbon production. The burning of these peatlands also releases a dangerous haze into the air, the result of which leads to 100,000 deaths in Southeast Asia every year. Only 15% of native species survive this treatment to the land, and many native peoples have been forced out of their homelands to make way for this process. The effects of palm oil are much worse than just the orang-utan population; its contribution to human rights violations and greenhouse gases are hugely significant.
Four commodities contribute to the overwhelming majority of all deforestation worldwide - they are beef, palm oil, soybean and wood products. Whilst palm oil ranks number 2 on this list, beef lists at number one. These four commodities destroy around 3.83 million hectares of deforestation per year - thats a space the same size of Switzerland. Yet, out of this 3.83 million, 2.71 million hectares are destroyed to create pasture for cattle to graze on. That’s 71% of forest destroyed, for beef. Moreover, this does not translate effectively to calories. Palm oil has 0.8 grams of carbon dioxide per kcal consumed. Beef has 52.3 grams. That difference is huge.
I’m not suggesting that Iceland stops selling beef. But they could be doing more. For example, they have rolled back their vegan range in order to sell more meat products over the Christmas period. This shows that their move to accommodate those who choose not to eat meat was more of a food trend than a vital change we should all be looking to make. If Iceland really cares about making an environmental impact, this should be reflected throughout all their ranges, not simply cherry picked to fit in with what’s in style.
This advert is reflective of a problem that comes up time and time again when large companies try to incorporate activism into advertising campaigns. And the effect is not entirely negative; the advert has brought the issue of palm oil to the public eye, which is a valid cause. There has even been an example of children recreating the advert in their lessons, a heartwarming example of its far-reaching effects. But we should be careful to examine these campaigns with a critical eye. Whilst they can bring about positive change, it’s worth remembering to see them for what they really are – good advertising.
The Union of Concerned Scientists have some great resources on climate change and deforestation: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/stop-defores...