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March 7, 2012 

Global Demand for Vegetable Oils Contributing to Deforestation

New Report Helps Businesses Become Deforestation-Free

WASHINGTON (March 7, 2012) – The global demand for vegetable oils is increasing at an unsustainable rate – more than 5 percent annually over the past decade – contributing to massive deforestation in tropical regions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

UCS’s report “Recipes for Success: Solutions for Deforestation-Free Vegetable Oils,” which was co-authored with Climate Advisers, offers solutions for businesses, governments and consumers on producing and using vegetable oil without causing deforestation.

Vegetable oils are found in thousands of products we use and consume daily, from cookies and cooking oils to shampoo and even fuel for vehicles. The growing vegetable oil market has spurred an increased demand for land, and tropical forests are being cleared to make room for large-scale farms.

Deforestation results in a loss of biodiversity, destroys ecosystems and puts indigenous peoples at risk. Globally, the most damaging effect of deforestation is its contribution to global climate change, which account for about 15 percent of annual carbon emissions – more than the pollution from every car, truck, plane, ship, and train on Earth.

“It’s important for consumers to insist that companies ensure the products they sell are deforestation-free,” said Calen May-Tobin, policy analyst and advocate for UCS’s Tropical Forests and Climate Initiative. “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.”

In 2010, Nestle, the world’s largest food company, pledged to eradicate the deforestation footprint from its products. The company is now able to trace its oils’ supply chain to ensure that growers and producers adhere to guidelines that protect the forest.

Nestle set itself apart as an industry leader. And other companies are taking note. 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.

Governments and consumers also play a role. In Brazil, where deforestation resulted from soy and cattle farming, mounting pressure from consumers forced the government to declare a moratorium on buying or exporting soybeans produced on recently deforested land. This moratorium, along with other laws and programs protecting the forest, drastically reduced deforestation in the Amazon over the past five years – so much so that Brazil has lowered its heat-trapping emissions more than any other country on Earth – all while increasing the production of soy and cattle.

Although some vegetable oils don’t directly contribute to deforestation, demand for all oils is interchangeable. The best long-term option is to make all vegetable oils deforestation-free. Vegetable oil producers can help by focusing on increasing crop yields on existing plantations and expanding new production onto non-forest degraded land, rather than clearing forests for new plantations.

“Producing deforestation-free cooking oils and other products is absolutely doable. We’ve seen it work in Brazil and we are encouraged by Nestle’s policies,” said May-Tobin. “But it’s up to businesses and governments to make the commitment and consumers to hold them to it.”

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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