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Kids join mass letter-writing campaign to save orang-utans

Genevieve Alison, June 24, 2018 7:00PM Herald Sun

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Orang-utans of Borneo. Picture: supplied media_cameraOrang-utans of Borneo. Picture: supplied


Reading level: green

More than 50,000 primary school children have written to Australian politicians to help save orang-utans by demanding that all products containing palm oil are labelled.

Government ministers who make decisions on food labelling plan to meet on Friday, June 29 to discuss the issue.

To meet world demand for palm oil, rainforest where orang-utans live is destroyed to make way for palm-oil plantations. These rainforests are also habitats* of other endangered* species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants.

Zoos Victoria has encouraged students to join its campaign*, called Don’t Palm Us Off, for almost 10 years.

In Australia companies don’t have to include palm oil on their product ingredient lists, meaning much of what we eat and use is hidden. Even when people know about the environmental damage palm-oil production can do, it is very difficult to choose not to buy it.

Palm oil is often disguised as “vegetable oil” on product ingredient lists. Palm oil itself is not necessarily any more or less healthy for us to eat than other vegetable oils. The reason for the campaign is for the environmental damage it is causing in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Orang-utan and tiger palm oil awareness media_cameraMelbourne Zoo’s Sumatran female Tiger Indrah. Tiger habitat in Sumatra, Indonesia, is impacted by palm-oil production. Picture: David Caird

Foods that often contain palm oil include pizza dough, instant noodles, ice cream, margarine, chocolate, cookies and packaged bread. Soap also often contains palm oil.

Zoos Victoria believes that compulsory* labelling of palm oil will help pressure food companies to start using sustainably-produced* palm oil, as well as allow people to choose foods without palm oil.

Compulsory labelling is already in place in the European Union, US and Canada, which has resulted in changes to buying behaviour.

More than 419,000 Australians have already spoken out as part of the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign.

Victoria is the only state committed* to palm-oil labelling.

For information on the Zoos Victoria campaign visit

Great apes just got greater

1000 Orang-Utan's at the Melbourne Zoo media_cameraMaimunah the 28-year-old orang-utan with Bridget at Melbourne Zoo. Picture: Andrew Henshaw


  • habitats: where something naturally lives
  • endangered: in danger of extinction
  • campaign: organised program to get something done
  • compulsory: has to be done
  • committed: has promised to do something



  1. What have the schoolchildren asked the government to do?
  2. How could us eating palm oil endanger orang-utans?
  3. Why is it hard for Australians to choose not to eat palm oil now?
  4. List some foods that often contain palm oil?
  5. What is the Zoos Victoria campaign called?

1. Radio ad
Create a 30-second radio advertisement asking the government to include palm oil on the label of any product it’s in and to ask people to stop buying it the way it is currently produced. Use all the facts in the article on why you shouldn’t use it until companies start producing it in a more sustainable way that doesn’t affect the habitats of these beautiful animals.

Remember a radio ad needs to be clear and concise and you need to get the message across as clearly and as quickly as possible. Therefore a slogan is good and you need to get your facts out there quickly. Develop a script and then record it on any device or computer so you can check it only goes for 30 seconds and you can see how it sounds.

Play the radio ads out aloud to the class and your classmates can give some positive and things to consider feedback.

2. Extension
Do you believe labelling palm oil on products would stop people buying it? Why or why not? How would the palm oil producers respond?

Time: Allow 30 minutes
Curriculum links: English

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

QUESTION: As well as writing to politicians, how else can children help stop rainforests being removed to produce palm oil? Explain your answer using full sentences. No one-word answers.

Extra Reading in environment