Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Oils and fats

Along with carbohydrate and protein, fat is one of the three main macronutrients. In common use, ‘oil’ refers to a fat with short or unsaturated fatty acid chains that is liquid at room temperature. ‘Fat’ refers to those which are solid at room temperature. Some specific types of fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) are called ‘essential’ because they cannot be synthesised in the body from simpler components but must be obtained from specific foods. The health profile of fats differs; omega 3s (found in oily fish) are beneficial, but saturated fats (found in animal products and palm oil) are associated with heart disease. Fat production is often a cause of environmental concern. For example, butter production, as an animal product, is GHG intensive while plant-based palm oil has driven tropical deforestation, forest fires and CO2 release (e.g. in Indonesia and Malaysia). Soy production (to produce both oil and animal feed) is also associated with deforestation and attendant harms as well as with livestock-related impacts. Oils are increasingly produced for the biofuel sector.

14 July 2020

According to this paper, coconut oil cultivation puts a much greater number of species at risk per million tonnes of oil than other oils, including palm oil, despite narratives about the environmental impacts of oils usually focusing on deforestation caused by palm oil cultivation.

23 June 2020

FCRN member Susannah Fleiss is the lead author of this paper, which finds that setting aside areas of forest (conservation set-asides) within oil palm plantations plays a vital role in storing carbon and boosting rainforest biodiversity within plantations.

26 May 2020

This paper reviews the environmental, economic and social consequences of the oil palm boom. It finds that palm oil has increased incomes, generated employment and reduced poverty at the same time as causing deforestation and biodiversity loss. It discusses policy options to reduce the tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic benefits.

10 February 2020

This report from NGO Friends of the Earth Europe examines how European demand for beef, soy (as animal feed) and palm oil is linked to deforestation in the Global South. It outlines the limitations of sustainability certification schemes, and makes policy proposals that focus on food sovereignty.

3 February 2020

In this podcast from the World Resources Institute, Andika Putraditama (sustainable commodities and business manager at WRI Indonesia) discusses how buyers have responded to certified sustainable palm oil. Some prefer to avoid palm oil altogether. Putraditama argues that encouraging certified palm oil would incentivise the palm oil industry to change its practices.

9 December 2019

According to this study of oil palm plantations in Colombia, converting pasture to oil palm plantation is almost carbon neutral, because declines in soil organic carbon are offset by gains in oil palm biomass over a period of several decades. The authors argue that planting oil palm on former pasture land is preferable to converting rainforest to plantations, as regards greenhouse gas emissions.

2 December 2019

This podcast, part of the BBC programme The Food Chain, explores initiatives that hope to change how palm oil is produced. It outlines some of the environmental and social issues associated with conventional palm oil production, and discusses a smallholder certification scheme in the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo.

11 November 2019

The initial results of an experiment on palm oil plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia, suggests that using less fertiliser on palm oil plantations and controlling weeds through mechanical weeding instead of herbicide use could be beneficial both ecologically and economically.

8 May 2019

The impacts of palm oil plantations on human wellbeing depend on context and are neither uniformly negative nor positive, finds this study of villages in Indonesia. Oil palm plantations are more likely to lead to improved basic, physical and financial well-being in villages with relatively low existing forest cover and where most people make a living by producing goods for market, compared to villages with higher forest cover and where most people have subsistence-based livelihoods.

16 April 2019

This report explains several trends and issues impacting the edible fats and oils system, including increasing demand, land use, public health, climate impacts, restrictions on trans fats, the search for alternatives to palm oil and soy, and supply chain transparency.

16 April 2019

FCRN member Samuel Smith of international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future has contributed to this report, which sets out the case for organisations to act on the sustainability of all the fats and oils in their supply chains, including but not limited to palm oil.

13 March 2019

Extreme weather events such as frosts, heavy rains and droughts are the main drivers of lower olive yields in Italy, according to Professor Riccardo Valentini of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change. Italy has experienced a 57% drop in olive oil production in 2018.

29 October 2018

This paper searched for areas of land in Africa where palm oil could be cultivated productively with minimal impact on primate populations. The results showed that such areas are rare: the areas that are suitable for growing palm oil also tend to be areas where primates are highly vulnerable.

17 July 2018

A recent paper assesses the carbon implications of converting Indonesian rainforests to oil palm monocultures, rubber monocultures or rubber agroforestry systems (known as “jungle rubber”). It finds that carbon losses are greatest from oil palm plantations and lowest from jungle rubber systems, in all cases being mainly from loss of aboveground carbon stocks. The paper points out that, “Thorough assessments of land-use impacts on resources such as biodiversity, nutrients, and water must complement this synthesis on C but are still not available.”

21 May 2018

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set out a strategy for removing industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. WHO estimates that half a million people die each year because of cardiovascular disease caused by trans fat consumption. Artificial trans fat are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (a process that gives liquid vegetable oils a higher melting point), while some natural trans fats are found in meat and dairy.

21 May 2018

This paper outlines the difficulties of governing the complex global palm oil supply chain, examines the narratives around the environmental and social sustainability of palm oil and analyses how power dynamics create a fragmented governance structure for palm oil. The author concludes that the palm oil industry has created a narrative in which only “unsustainable” palm oil production is to blame for negative environmental and social effects, and in which “sustainable” palm oil - and an increase in its production - is presented as being beneficial for conservation and local communities.​

24 April 2018

Frozen food supermarket Iceland has pledged to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand lines by the end of 2018, citing concerns over collapsing orangutan populations and deforestation. The initiative - the first of its kind among major UK supermarkets - should reduce demand for palm oil by over 500 tonnes a year.

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