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Speaker Q&A

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The Environmental Impact Of Vegetable Oils

Dr. Erik Meijaard

1. Question:

Are small dairy farms sustainable?



I guess that all depends on how you define “sustainable,” and the context in which these farms are developed. I don’t think that any agriculture is truly sustainable in that it completely avoids the depletion of natural resources.


But of course, it makes a big difference if a small dairy farm is developed on existing agricultural lands where animal densities are so low that dairy production can be sustained without external input (feed, medication etc.), or whether such a farm is developed in an area that was covered in natural forest not so long ago.


Sustainability is not a black and white issue — some agriculture is more sustainable than others. What makes things even more complicated is that sustainability also has a social dimension (e.g., alleviation of poverty). So no easy yes/no answer to your question.



2. Question:

If pork and poultry are raised on pasture instead of being fed with soybean-based feed, etc., would that be a viable option for sustainable oils?


As a small farmer, I'm always looking for ways to reduce feed costs anyways, and we pasture our chickens as much as we can. Also keeps the bugs down.



Raising pork and poultry on pasture without external feed inputs would certainly reduce the need for importing soy and other feeds, and also avoid further nitrogen pollution. Whether this is a viable alternative for vegetable oils, I don’t know.


The uses of pork, poultry, and vegetable oils partly overlap, but the latter also have specific uses that are not met by pork and poultry.


Land needs are an important consideration though. As I showed in my presentation the land footprint (land needed to produce 1 kg of fat) for pork and poultry is a lot higher than for vegetable oils although not as high as for beef.


3. Question:

How does monoculture vs ecosystem-based farming impact the conclusions you've presented?



Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer. Monocultures generally produce more on less land than mixed farming systems in more natural settings.

As I explained, agricultural land use and expansion of such uses is one of the main threats to biodiversity, so the less land is allocated to agriculture the better it is.


But then again, more natural production systems also have more space for biodiversity. We need a better understanding of the trade-offs between different production systems (land needs, biodiversity costs and benefits, social costs and benefits etc).



4. Question:

Why should you be taken seriously when you are equating short-term life cycle flows from natural ruminants with long-term life cycle flows in monocropped poisonous seed oils.



It sounds like you have already made up your mind by calling ruminants “natural” and seed oils “poisonous,” which makes no sense at all.


Ruminants are no more natural than crops. Comparing fat production from vegetable oil crops or animals is a valid way of looking for how future fat needs can be best met, whatever the length of the life cycle.


5. Question:

Where might aquaculture/kelp/fish oil options fit into expanding sources of fat long term?



Good point. I am not an aquaculture specialist but was once told that the only way to meet the world’s future protein needs is through aquaculture, reducing pressure from natural fisheries and land-based animal production. There are interesting developments in oils from microbial sources but these haven’t been taken to scale yet.

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The views, opinions, and responses of the Future of Fat speakers are their own and do not reflect the opinions of Zero Acre Farms, The Future of Fat Summit, or any organization or company involved. 

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