Junk Food Demand Fuels Massive Deforestation in S.E. Asia, S. America

Earth Observatory Blog

Junk Food Demand Fuels Massive Deforestation in S.E. Asia, S. America

An oil palm plantation in Indonesia. (Source: Image source: Achmad Rabin Taim/ Wikipedia)

Edible vegetable oil, produced from oil palm and soybeans, is a key ingredient in junk food like chips and ice cream. Although these foods have little to no nutritional value, global consumption is on the rise, resulting in an increase in demand for vegetable oil. This has become a serious issue because large areas of land in Southeast Asia and South America have to be cleared to make way for oil palm and soybean crops. 

A study, led by Assistant Professor Janice Lee of the Asian School of the Environment, has found that more forests will be cleared by the year 2050 as a result of the increased demand in vegetable oil. Along with this deforestation, valuable biodiversity will be lost in Southeast Asia, and sequestered carbon (carbon stored in plants, soils, and geologic formations) in South America will be lost too. 

Published on 1 Sep 2016 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the study’s findings highlight a problem with the current global food system – the land is used in a manner that damages the environment, while the nutritional needs of the people are still not being met.

“It is important to note that we should try to avoid junking tropical forests for junk foods,” said Asst. Prof Lee. She explained that, according to previous studies, it is possible to meet the nutritional requirements of the growing global population without destroying tropical forests. This can be achieved by narrowing the gaps in crop yields, and using valuable agricultural resources more efficiently.

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