A new study looking into the environmental footprint of vegetable oil-based products has been published by the European Union (EU) seed crushers and oil processors’ federation (FEDIOL).

Commissioned by Belgian research institute VITO, the life cycle stages covered in the study included the industrial processing of oilseeds and crude vegetable oils, the association said.

The up-stream stages of cultivation and transport and the downstream stages of transportation of the processed products to customers, were also covered in the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) profiles, FEDIOL said in the 15 June statement.

A total of 28 production sites from 10 FEDIOL companies took part in the study by collecting data and contributing to the design of the sector’s category rules.

Developed by the European Commission (EC) and based on life cycle assessment, the PEF’s goal is to provide a common approach to measuring environmental performance of products.

Following the PEF method, the 16 environmental impacts were assessed along with biodiversity, FEDIOL said, and VITO then created category rules for the association’s products, which provided specific guidance for estimating and reporting product life cycle environmental impacts.

“With the completion of the FEDIOL study following the PEF method, the sector should be better prepared for an upcoming European Union (EU) legislative initiative which would involve the use of PEF methodologies as a basis for green claims or more generally sharing information on environmental performance,” the association said.

In its conclusion, FEDIOL said the PEF study highlighted the importance of the agricultural life cycle phase for the environmental impact of vegetable oil and protein meal products.

With the crushing process, the use of electricity and heat drove the environmental impact, the report said, while energy use and auxiliary materials were the main contributors to the environmental impact of the refining process.

“For rapeseed refining, both energy use and auxiliary materials play an important role, the dominance of one over the other depends on the impact category,” FEDIOL said in the study’s conclusion.

“For soyabean refining, palm and palm kernel refining, the contribution of auxiliary materials is more dominant. The contribution comes mainly from citric acid and from bleaching earth. For sunflowerseed refining and maize refining, the energy use has - in most of the environmental impact categories - a more important contribution compared to the use of auxiliary materials.”

The impact of direct process emissions to air taking place during the refining process were not important, according to the study.

The PEF profiles and category rules are available on the FEDIOL website.