Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that can be used in cooking and as a food ingredient. The Palm trees contain high levels of oils and grow quickly.
Palm oil makes a cheap substitute for butter in the form of margarine, due to the high level of saturated fats, which make it attractive for use in the bakery and pastry industries.
Palm oil can also be used as a bio-diesel much like rapeseed oil. Both of these products can be used for foods and fuel production, and are subject to the demands of both industries. This can lead to debates on food vs fuel where natural resources are under pressure to deliver objective on sustainable foods and sustainable fuel generation.
Indonesia is currently the worlds largest producer of palm oil having a favourable climate and desire to lead the world in the oils production and refining. Environmental groups argue that palm oil production in Indonesia causes environmental destruction, namely mass deforestation which contributes to habitat loss for critical endangered species such as the Orang-utan and the Sumatran Tiger. The environmental groups also question the carbon balance of producing palm oil for biodiesel. They believe that the positive influence switching to a biodiesel is cancelled out by the carbon lost to the atmosphere when the forest is cut down and peat bogs are drained for palm production.
In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. It includes members such as Kellog Company, Sainsburys PLC, Orangutan Land Trust and The Zoological Society of London.
Take the quiz â€“ Can you live without Palm Oil?
New regulations in 2014
The current rules for labeling content of foods in the European Union make it very difficult to determine if food contains palm oil, because the generic term “vegetable fat” can be used in the ingredients list. New rules that come into force within the EU from December 2014 will require the content of palm oil to be labeled specifically on foods.
Soyabean is a primarily used as a cheap source of protein for animal feeds and pre-packaged meals such as TVP (textured vegetable protein). Brazil is the worldâ€™s second largest producer and largest exporter of soya, with the USA being the worldâ€™s largest consumer of soya. The Soyabean is a leguminous plant that fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and grows readily in a wide range of soils where the climate provides warm summers.
A large proportion of soya crops are processed to extract oils, which are sold as vegetable oils around the globe. The material remaining after extraction of oil from the beans still contains high levels of protein. This material is ground to a meal that is an important element of poultry and swine production for meat. Cattle are also widely fed soya in intensive beef production, a practice that has been driven by the increase in global demand for beef products. Therefore, most of the worldâ€™s soybeans are consumed indirectly by humans through products like meat (chicken, pork and beef), dairy, and eggs. People also directly consume soybeans in tofu, soy sauce, meat substitutes and other soy products.
Much of the concern raised over intensive Soya production in Brazil has revolved around the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. However more recently the focus has changed to another biodiversity rich habitat, the Cerrado, a mosaic of grasslands, wetlands and forest areas. According to the World Wildlife Fund the Cerrado contains one third of species in Brazil, such as the Giant Anteater, 5% of all species in the world and 44% of the Cerradoâ€™s plant species are found nowhere else on earth.
As living standards have improved throughout the world, people have shown an increased hunger for meat products. This is especially true for developing nations or nations where the economies are booming. China for example has been highlighted for doubling meat consumption during 1990 to 2000, and has now surpassed the USA as the worldâ€™s largest consumer, by using an estimated one quarter of the worldâ€™s meat produce.
The production of beef can have a number of negative environmental impacts. Some examples of this include placing strain on water supplies via extraction for cattle drinking and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, namely methane from the cowâ€™s rumen and manure. According to the World Wildlife Fund the most significant direct impact of beef production is the conversion of forest habitat to pasture. Global demand for beef is the driving factor behind this practice and it is estimated by Greenpeace that 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is now the result of habitat conversion to pasture for cattle ranching. The loss of forest biodiversity and carbon sequestration is combined with the increase in methane emissions from the cattle to give serious environmental consequences.
â€¢ Biodiversity is the number and variety of organisms found within a species, ecosystem, biome or planet.
â€¢ Biodiversity provides resilience to disease, pests and climatic changes.
â€¢ A significant number of drugs, pharmaceuticals and industrial materials are derived from plants and animals, many may yet be discovered.
â€¢ Ecosystem services such as pollination and clean air and water are supported by biodiversity.
â€¢ Human enjoyment, many people perceive biodiversity in an environment to have a leisure and aesthetic value.
â€¢ Increasing levels of the â€œgreenhouse gasâ€ carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been strongly linked to â€œglobal warmingâ€ or â€œclimate changeâ€.
â€¢ The rainforest plants and trees absorb large volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis the release oxygen back into the environment.
â€¢ Removing forests and converting to other land uses can result in less CO2 being removed from the atmosphere.
â€¢ Disturbing peat bogs, such as those found in Borneo, can result in emissions of CO2 back into the atmosphere, whereas in an undisturbed state peat bogs can act as stores for carbon.
â€¢ Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop or plant species over a wide area and for a large number of consecutive years.
â€¢ The crops tend to have uniform growing requirements and lead to larger yields.
â€¢ Monocultures reduce labour costs through the ability to allow increased mechanization.
â€¢ If a single cultivar or strain of crop is grown then it can be more susceptible to disease or pest attack as well as having a reduced tolerance to climatic variation.
â€¢ Monoculture crops can depend on specific pollinators which can leave them vulnerable to the health of the pollinating species.