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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Demand for Vegetable Oil Increases Rate of Deforestation

The global demand for vegetable oil is growing and contributing to deforestation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Their report Recipes for Success: Solutions for Deforestation-Free Vegetable Oils, offers solutions to aid businesses, governments and consumers in finding vegetable oils that do not adversely affect forest cover.

The increase in demand for vegetable oil not only impacts global economy but also ecosystems. This demand more land that is needed to grow crops. Palm oil and soybean oil are the worst culprits. Sadly, over the last decade, much of this demand has been met by clear-cutting tropical forests. Deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of annual global carbon emissions.

The increase in consumption of vegetable oils is due to several factors. Not only is the growing population requiring more oil but oils are also widely used in soaps, detergents, shampoos and processed foods.

The UCS report targets companies that use vegetable oils in their manufacturing, as it offers solutions on how to improve their supply chain and buy from sources that do not cause deforestation. In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the production of vegetable oil has caused large scale deforestation. Many companies have even begun to drop unsustainably produced palm oil from these countries. Recently, even the Girl's Scouts have pledged to use sustainable palm oil in their cookies.

After pressure from Greenpeace, Nestle, the world's largest food company, announced in 2012 that it will become transparent about its oil supply and will ensure that their producers will not resort to deforestation. The Consumer Goods Forum, an organization of more than 650 consumer goods manufacturers and retailers, pledged in late 2010 to collectively become deforestation-free by 2020.

However even consumers play a role as Calen May-Tobin, policy analyst and advocate for UCS’s Tropical Forests has said: “It’s important for consumers to insist that companies ensure the products they sell are deforestation-free. If leading companies commit to using deforestation-free vegetable oil in their products, others will follow suit, curbing the rate of deforestation and climate change.”

Governments play an important role as well. Mounting pressure from consumers resulted in a moratorium on buying or exporting soybeans on recently deforestated land in Brazil. Over the past five years, laws such as these have drastically reduced deforestation in the Amazon.

The production of vegetable oil is possible without resorting to using deforestated land. The need for forest cover is highly essential and many companies are beginning to realize this. CSR policies therefore, must take into consideration sourcing of every product, especially those that cause globally adverse phenomenon like deforestation.

Image Credit: Ignacio Icke, Wikimedia Commons

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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