Report: ‘Sustainable production and consumption better than exclusion, for sustainable fats and oils sector’

Boycotts and bans on specific fats and oils are an oversimplified solution to a complex problem, reveals a new report published today by multi-stakeholder initiative, the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration. IUCN NL has come on board for this report and now is one of the members of the Collaboration.

Header photo by dulezidar from Getty Images Pro via Canva Pro

The report is authored by the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration, an initiative convened by Forum for the Future that focuses on accelerating the sustainable production and use of edible fats and oils. Members of the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration include Volac Wilmar, M&S, Unilever, Upfield, and NGOs WWF-UK and IUCN NL.

Comparison of major oils and fats and their impacts

In a world-first, the ‘Breaking down fats and oils’ report analyses all the major vegetable oils and animal fats consumed globally as one system, presenting a comparison of their environmental, social, nutritional and financial impacts. It argues that nuance, context and in-depth assessment are needed to assess all factors, both positive and negative, associated with each ingredient.  

Heleen van den Hombergh, Senior Advisor Agrocommodity Governance at IUCN NL, said: ‘EU governments, financial institutions and companies all have to take into account the interrelatedness of the edible oil crops on the global market, especially their ecological and social connections. From Indonesian to Latin American to European forests and ecosystems, there’s a need to focus on sustainable production and consumption rather than exclusion, as no one oil crop is the sole problem or silver bullet to sustainable land use or fair trade.’

Highlights of the report

Currently, we risk worsening the environmental and social impacts of the fats and oils we use every day, calling on the food industry, the report highlights that:

  • all vegetable oils and animal fats present both advantages and disadvantages. Focusing on single crops, and substituting one oil for another, may produce unintended negative impacts elsewhere;
  • the food system’s entire value chain must align around the same goal: feeding a growing population in a way that’s nutritious, equitable and within planetary boundaries;
  • demand for oil crops is rising, largely driven by continued growth in both population and diets containing a greater proportion of processed foods and animal products. Companies should consider whether the products they are using fats and oils in support positive nutritional outcomes, rather than exacerbate challenges like obesity and cardio-vascular disease;
  • millions of people around the world rely on growing oil crops for their livelihood. However, too many of them live in poverty and work in extremely poor conditions;
  • the expansion of oil crop production onto areas of native vegetation affects indigenous peoples and local communities who may be evicted from the land and lose their livelihoods.

The climate crisis will add further pressure on the fats and oils system, production and livelihoods, with rising temperatures, changes to water availability and extreme weather events. To meet the challenges that the climate crisis poses, collaboration and investment are required across the value chain and throughout whole landscapes and jurisdictions.

This is the second publication by the Edible Fats and Oil Collaboration following its 2019 ‘Case for Action‘, which outlined the anticipated drivers of change for fats and oils and identified areas for collaborative action.