Global demand for vegetable oils has recently increased, which impacts not only the global economy, but also the atmosphere and ecosystems. Increasing demand for vegetable oils has traditionally translated into demand for more land to grow oil crops.
Over the last decade much of that land has come at the expense of tropical forests, and this is particularly true for palm and soybean oil.
This loss of tropical forest means a loss of precious biodiversity and the ecosystem (e.g., water cycle maintenance, potential sources of new medicines) and contributes to global climate change. Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of annual global carbon emissions.
Fats and oils can come primarily from either animal (e.g., tallow, butter) or vegetable sources from oil crops including oil palm, soybeans, rapeseed (also called canola), and others like olive oil and corn oil.
Along with carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and protein, oils and fats are essential to our diet. Vegetable oils are also found in thousands of products we use and consume every day, from cookies and cooking oils to shampoo and laundry detergent.
Increasingly, they are being used to fuel cars, trucks, and in the future, even airplanes. Countries around the world produce, consume, import, and export these oils in vast quantities.
The recent dynamics of the oilseed market and the demand for vegetable oil have been largely driven by the expanding populations and economies of developing countries, particularly India and China. Government mandates for biodiesel in the European Union, and to a lesser extent in the United States and elsewhere, are also expanding demand for vegetable oil.