The makers of Nutella have defended their use of palm oil after a report claimed it has the potential to cause cancer.
The big question is, are people over-reacting or are the risks real? We’ve done some digging and here’s what you need to know…
The EFSA claims that palm oil can cause a cancer risk
In May, the European Food Safety Authority (or EFSA) claimed palm oil is carcinogenic, and “generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius”. Concerns centre around the Glycidyl fatty acid ester (GE) process where contaminants can form during the refinement of vegetable oils. The chair of the ESFA panel said “there is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic”, however the ESFA has not yet recommended stopping the use of palm oil.
But on 7th December 2016, a study which was partially-funded by the UK-based charity Worldwide Cancer Research, claimed that a link existed between palm oil ingestion and the rapid spread of cancer in mice. According to the study, mice that were fed on a high fat diet and large amounts of palmitic acid (IE: a large component of palm oil) developed the most aggressive cancer spread.
What products besides Nutella, also contain palm oil?
You name it and there’s a very good chance that it may contain palm oil… Currently, widespread usage occurs in everyday things such as lipstick, toothpaste, chocolate bars, ice cream, instant noodles, shampoo, soap and detergent to name just a few, the World Wildlife Fund says. The EFSA also expressed particular concern about cases of baby milk formulas containing the same carcinogenic compounds.
Generally, the focus has been on Nutella… Partly because it is such a tastily iconic brand, and party because after sales fell, Ferrero (the spread’s manufacturer) put out adverts in an attempt to reassure people that the product was safe – this unfortunately for the company, would appear to have backfired.
Ferrero defends palm oil use
In their advert campaign, Ferrero says that Nutella would not be the same without palm oil and that they “use it in a way that isn’t dangerous”. Ferrero’s purchasing manager, Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters that switching ingredients would result in an inferior spread that wouldn’t be as smooth. In the advert, Tapella explains that the palm oil used by Ferrero is processed at a controlled temperature and comes from freshly squeezed fruits, making it safe.
Other serious issues with palm oil, other than its ingredients
EFSA’s 284-page long study highlights a number of environmental concerns that have dogged the palm oil industry for years. Several firms that make use of the ingredient, say that they buy palm oil that has been certified by the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil” Reuters reports, an organisation that works to reduce the negative impacts of cultivation on the environment. Humanitarian groups however have accused the palm oil industry of causing deforestation, with it’s devastation becoming clearer more recently in Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental documentary Before The Flood.
Indonesia, at the very heart of palm oil is now one of the world’s top carbon emitting countries, according to Rainforest Rescue. This is primarily due to the massive deforestation in the region; with this not only affecting the environment, but also animal life who call the Indonesian rainforests home, orangutans in particular.
Similarly to the UK-based supermarket chain of the same name; Italy’s largest food chain, The Co-Op, has pulled more than 200 of its own-brand products from shelves back in May 2016 because they contained refined palm oil. Nutella however, was not among the products removed since this wasn’t one of their own-brands. The Co-Op said the action was taken as a precaution, and that it had stopped selling products that were aimed at children (who were deemed at greater risk), reports the Independent.
Further lessen your risk, by reducing your exposure to products that contain processed palm oil.