Coconut oil production may be more damaging than palm oil

Coconut oil production may be more damaging to the environment than palm oil, researchers say.The new study suggests coconut oil threatens more species than palm or other vegetable oils.

The issue of tropical forests being cut down for palm oil production is widely known, but a new study is warning that coconut oil threatens more species per metric ton produced than palm or other vegetable oils.

Production of coconut oil affects 20 threatened species (including plants and animals) per million tons of oil produced, according to a statement. This is higher than other oil-producing crops, such as palm (3.8 species per million tons), olive (4.1) and soybean (1.3).

The main reason for the high number of species affected by coconut is that the crop is mostly grown on tropical islands with rich diversity and many unique species.

Co-author Dr Jesse F. Abrams, of the University of Exeter, said in the statement: “Consumers, especially those striving to be more responsible in their consumption, rely heavily on information that they receive from the media, which is often supplied by those with vested interests.

“When making decisions about what we buy, we need to be aware of our cultural biases and examine the problem from a lens that is not only based on Western perspectives to avoid dangerous double standards.”

Impact on threatened species is usually measured by the number of species affected per square hectare of land used – and by this measure palm’s impact is worse than coconut.

Species not yet extinct but threatened by coconut production include the Balabac mouse-deer, which lives on three Philippine islands, and the Sangihe tarsier, a primate living on the Indonesian island of Sangihe.

The authors emphasise that the objective of the study is not to add coconut to the growing list of products that consumers should avoid. Indeed, they note that olives and other crops raise also raise concerns.

Co-author Professor Douglas Sheil, of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, said: “Consumers need to realise that all our agricultural commodities, and not just tropical crops, have negative environmental impacts.We need to provide consumers with sound information to guide their choices.”

The researchers argue for new, transparent information to help consumers

Photo credit: David Stanley, Flickr creative commons


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