Read our latest report

Breaking down fats and oils: A catalyst to transform the global edible fats and oils system

The “Breaking down fats and oils” report analyses all the major vegetable oils and animal fats consumed globally as one system – the first time this has ever been done. Authored by the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration, the report aims to provide an informed and balanced description of the fats and oils sector and argues that nuance, context and in-depth assessment are needed to assess the environmental, social and nutritional factors, both positive and negative, associated with each ingredient. The aim of the report is to provide information and analysis into the marketplace which can help inform better policies and decision-making by brands, retailers and the food industry as a whole, ultimately accelerating the sustainable production and use of edible fats and oils.

Calling on the food industry, the report highlights that:

  • all vegetable oils and animal fats present both advantages and disadvantages. Focusing on single crops, and substituting one oil for another, may produce unintended negative impacts elsewhere;
  • the food system’s entire value chain must align around the same goal: feeding a growing population in a way that’s nutritious, equitable and within planetary boundaries;
  • demand for oil crops is rising, largely driven by continued growth in both population and diets containing a greater proportion of processed foods and animal products. Companies should consider whether the products they are using fats and oils in support positive nutritional outcomes, rather than exacerbate challenges like obesity and cardio-vascular disease;
  • millions of people around the world rely on growing oil crops for their livelihood. However, too many of them live in poverty and work in extremely poor conditions;
  • the expansion of oil crop production onto areas of native vegetation affects indigenous peoples and local communities who may be evicted from the land and lose their livelihoods.

Launched in July 2021, the report is the second publication by the Edible Fats and Oil Collaboration following its 2019 “Case for Action” (download available below) which outlined the anticipated drivers of change for fats and oils and identified areas for collaborative action.

Download the report

On 22 September, as part of Climate Week NYC 2022, Forum for the Future hosted an online event to share key insights from the Breaking down fats and oils report and explore how to build a just and regenerative future for edible fats and oils. Watch the recording:

The Challenge

Fats and oils are an essential part of a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet for both humans and livestock. But the way we’re producing and consuming fats and oils is clearly unsustainable.

Declining biodiversity, competition for land, climate change, water stress, and human rights abuses in the supply chain are some of the many challenges surrounding the production of edible fats and oils. There are also consumption and nutritional challenges: Poor diets have resulted in a double burden of malnutrition and obesity. People eating the right fats and oils, in the right quantities, is a critical part of responding to this public health challenge.

There is little widespread understanding about how the different industrial fats and oils stack up against each other in environmental, social but also nutritional terms. Instead, public debate is often simplified and polarised into “good vs bad” fats and oils, with palm oil receiving the most scrutiny specifically for its association with deforestation and other environmental impacts. But it’s not that simple.

Our Solution

No single crop holds all the answers to the multiple complex challenges facing this sector. Paying attention to the whole system of edible fats and oils is critical to responding adequately and we are inviting actors from across the value chain to join us in the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration.

This three-year, global multi-stakeholder initiative is focused on accelerating the sustainable production and use of edible fats and oils.

In our report, 'Breaking down fats and oils’ we have developed a holistic framework for assessing the sustainability profile of different fats and oils. This will promote a shared understanding of how the different fats and oils compare against each other in terms of environmental and social impacts, nutritional profile, and the physical properties which might make one more appropriate for a certain usage compared to another. Our analysis maps major edible fats and oils against that framework, as well as identifying the key alternative innovations and their market potential, from algae- to yeast-based oils.

Our ambition is to share these insights widely amongst industry and other key stakeholders, and use them as part of workstreams with key influencers, in order to:

  • inform the sourcing and formulation practices of major food brands and retailers;
  • identify and get commitment around investment policies and reporting mechanisms which will accelerate sustainable fats and oils production;
  • provide recommendations for exemplar policies that can support a step-change in the sustainability of edible fats and oils.

Together we will develop a better understanding of the sustainability and nutritional profiles of fats and oils, shift industry practice, shape investment policies and legislation, and help bring new innovations to scale.

Download the report

Benefits of joining

There are multiple benefits for organisations that take part in this collaboration:

  • Risk mitigation and increased resilience, through improved policies and strategy.
  • Access deeper insights and build stronger relationships around sustainable fats and oils, helping develop a leadership position.
  • Gain insights into nascent products and technologies in the edible fats and oils system, helping foster innovation and realise new business opportunities.
  • Shape investment policies that support sustainable outcomes in fats and oils
  • Better collaboration and engagement, that shapes more impactful, future-proofed policy and legislation around fats and oils sourcing and use.
  • A more engaged and motivated workforce, proud to be contributing to a more sustainable system.

Join us

Does your organisation have an edible fats and oils policy which helps decision-makers understand all the environmental, social and risks and provide options for addressing them?

Are you planning for climate disruption to your supply chain?

What proportion of the edible fats and oils your company uses is sustainably produced? 

If you find it difficult to answer the questions above, you’re not alone. What’s important is to understand the system and find solutions to make it as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible.

Forum for the Future, M&S, Volac Wilmar, Unilever, Upfield, WWF and IUCN-NL are inviting organisations to join the Edible Fats and Oils Collaboration. We’re looking for leaders to continue pushing for change in the edible fats and oils system. 

The collaboration is open to food and agricultural companies from across the supply chain, together with NGOs, investors and policymakers.

To find out more contact Mareyah Bhatti. 

Contact Mareyah

Who’s involved

Additional resources

  • The Edible Fats and Oils “Case for Action” (2019) outlined the anticipated drivers of change for fats and oils and identified areas for collaborative action. Download here. 
  • Explore the insights and trends shaping the future of edible fats and oils (2019). Download here.  

Sally Smith, Head of Sustainability at Upfield, says:

“Our food system is complex, and simple solutions are rarely the best solutions. We urge policy makers, the food industry, and stakeholders across the value chain to use the findings in this report to improve the environmental impact of all the major fats and oils in our food system. With this nuanced assessment of the interconnected benefits and disadvantages of the fats and oils we consume on a daily basis, we can eventually achieve sustainable production, healthy consumption and economic wellbeing in our food system.”