Non-Food Uses

The Author: Frank D. Gunstone, James Hutton Institute (and Mylnefield Lipid Analysis), Invergowrie, Dundee (DD2 5DA), Scotland

Most of the oils and fats produced each year are used as human food with the remainder being used as the basis of the oleochemical industry and some for animal feed. In the 1980s based on 17 commodity oils, the ratio of these three uses was considered to be 80:14:6. This ratio applied to all 17 oils and fats collectively. It cannot be applied to USDA data on the nine vegetable oils nor to individual commodity oils or to individual countries. For example, the usage pattern of olive oil is clearly different from that of linseed oil and countries with a substantial oleochemical industry will differ from those with little or no activity in this area. In any case this ratio is no longer valid because of the rapid growth in the use of oils and fats for biodiesel. I have suggested elsewhere that this ratio based on 17 commodity oils is now closer to 75:20:5, but there have been further changes since then.

Information provided by the USDA is taken or derived from USDA data for February 2012. This allows us to study more closely the figures for nine major vegetable oils (Tables 1-4). There are gaps in the Tables because the USDA information provided is not complete. Surprisingly, for example, in Table 3 while there are useful figures for the major consuming countries in respect of the consumption for food and nonfood uses, there are no corresponding figures for the soybean-producing countries in North and South America. Information about USA from another source (Soystats) indicates the nonfood use of soybean oil as 4, 12, and 20% of consumption of this oil in 2001, 2006, and 2011 respectively. Some animal fats are used extensively for nonfood purposes, but figures are not provided and this discussion is confined to nine vegetable oils. We will address the questions: which oils have greatest nonfood use, in which parts of the world is nonfood use more important, and what changes have occurred since the mid-1990s?

The oleochemical industry uses oils and fats as essential feedstock. These are converted to basic oleochemicals such as acids, esters, alcohols, and nitrogen-containing compounds, which are then used mainly to produce surface-active compounds for personal care and for cleaning processes. The new feature here is the use of esters as biodiesel. Other industrial uses include paints and inks, lubricants, and production of polyols to make polyurethanes.

  • Current production of the nine major vegetable oils in 2009/10 is detailed in Tables 1 and 3. Of these oils, 36 million tonnes (24%) are now used for nonfood purposes (i.e. for animal feed and for the oleochemical industry including biodiesel). This will include the two lauric oils at about 50% of total (4-5 million tonnes), palm oil (13 million tonnes), rapeseed oil (7 million tonnes) and other (~10 million tonnes). This last is likely to be mainly soybean oil with only small contributions from cottonseed, olive, peanut, and sunflower.
  • The highest ratio of nonfood to food use is apparent in SE Asia (with its large oleochemical industry, particularly in Malaysia) and in EU-27 (oleochemical industry and biodiesel production, mainly from rapeseed oil). There will also be significant nonfood use in USA and Japan, both with mature oleochemical industries and in countries such as the USA, Brazil and Argentina producing biodiesel from soybean oil for local use and/or for export.
  • The figures in Table 2 covering the last 10 years show that there has been a continued increase in nonfood use of oils and fats in the second half of this period. To make this point, it is better to discuss percentages than million tonnes. Thus, for the nine seed oils the percentage used for nonfood purposes was 12, 20, and 24% of total production at the beginning, middle, and end of the 10-year period, respectively. These figures were 9, 28, and 31% for rapeseed oil and 18, 25, and 27% for palm oil. The change for rapeseed oil, mainly in Europe, is linked to biodiesel production. The rising use of palm oil for nonfood purposes is not (yet) an indicator of biodiesel production, but reflects the increasing use of this oil in the conventional oleochemical industry, particularly in SE Asia.
  • Table 4 shows the distribution of the nine vegetable oils between nonfood and food use over the last 13 years during which time the nonfood share has risen from 9 to 36 million tonnes (from 10.5 to 23.9%). This change is particularly marked from 2003/04 onwards. This reflects particularly the growth of the oleochemical industry in Malaysia based on palm and palm kernel oils and increasing production of biodiesel in Europe mainly from rapeseed oil and in the USA, Brazil and Argentina based on soybean oil. As yet, only minor amounts of biodiesel are produced from palm oil in South East Asia.
Table 1. Production (million tonnes and %) of nine major vegetable oils in 2011/12
  Coconut 3.56 2.3
  Cottonseed 5.27 3.4
  Olive 3.39 2.2
  Palm 50.70 32.5
  Palmkernel 5.91 3.8
  Peanut 5.07 3.3
  Rapeseed 24.29 15.6
  Soybean 42.40 27.2
  Sunflower 15.1 9.7
  Total 155.71  


Table 2. Consumption for food and nonfood (nf) purposes (million tonnes) in 2001/02, 2006/07, and 2011/12
 9 Seed oilsRapeseedPalm7 Other Seed Oils
 Total   Food   nf   Total   Food   nf   Total   Food   nf   Total   Food   nf   
  01/02 91.3 80.3 11.0 13.3 12.1 1.2 24.5 20.0 4.5 53.5 48.2 5.3
  06/07 119.7 96.2 23.5 17.6 12.7 4.9 36.2 27.3 8.9 65.9 56.2 9.7
  11/12 150.0 114.2 35.8 23.7 16.4 7.3 48.9 35.5 13.4 77.4 62.3 15.1


Table 3. Food and nonfood consumption (million tonnes) of the major vegetable oils in 2011/12 by country/region
  SE Asia 18.5 9.3 8.9 5.5 0.0 0.0 3.4
  Middle East 4.9 4.6 0.3 0.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
  EU-27 23.5 12.4 10.8 2.2 7.0 0.9 0.7
  China 29.2 26.6 2.6 2.1 0.0 0.0 0.5
  India 16.9 16.2 0.7 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.4
  USA 12.8            
  Other 44.2            

  Total 150.0 114.2 35.8 13.4 7.3    
South East Asia includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Middle East includes Bahrain, Gaza Strip, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Banks, and Yemen.
Figures for industrial use are given where available. Where food and industrial uses do not add to the total figure the balance will be nonfood uses other than industrial and are mainly animal feed.


Table 4. Food and nonfood (nf) consumption (million tonnes and %) of nine major vegetable oils between 1999/00 and 2011/12
  1999/00 82.9 74.2 8.7 10.5
  2000/01 88.8 78.6 10.2 11.5
  2001/02 91.1 80.2 10.9 12.0
  2002/03 95.1 82.9 12.2 12.8
  2003/04 100.7 86.9 13.8 13.7
  2004/05 108.2 91.5 16.7 15.4
  2005/06 114.7 94.2 20.5 17.9
  2006/07 119.4 95.9 23.5 19.7
  2007/08 125.1 98.8 26.3 21.0
  2008/09 129.7 101.4 28.3 21.8
  2009/10 137.8 106.4 31.4 22.8
  2010/11 144.6 110.9 33.7 23.3
  2011/12 150.0 114.2 35.8 23.9