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Species Richness and Carbon Footprints of Vegetable Oils: Can High Yields Outweigh Palm Oil’s Environmental Impact?

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Beyer, Robert 


jats:pPalm oil has been widely criticised for its high environmental impacts, leading to calls to replace it with alternative vegetable oils in food and cosmetic products. However, substituting palm oil would be environmentally beneficial only if the environmental footprint per litre oil were lower than those of alternative vegetable oils. Whether this is the case is not obvious, given the high oil yields of oil palm of up to 10 times those of alternative crops. Here, we combine global agricultural and environmental datasets to show that, among the world’s seven major vegetable oil crops (oil palm, soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, groundnut, coconut, olive), oil palm has the lowest average species richness and carbon footprint associated with an annual production of one litre of vegetable oil. For each crop, these yield-adjusted footprints differ substantially between major producer countries, which we find to be largely the result of differences in crop management. Closing agricultural yield gaps of oil crops through improved management practices would significantly reduce the environmental footprints per oil yield. This would minimise the need for further land conversion to oil cropland and indeed could increase production to such an extent that a significant area of oil croplands could be ecologically restored.</jats:p>



3002 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management, 30 Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences, 3004 Crop and Pasture Production, 41 Environmental Sciences, 14 Life Below Water, 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, 2 Zero Hunger

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