Palm-Leaks, ‘Big Food’ corporations knew for a dozen years about cancer and genotoxicity danger to children and adolescents


Only in recent days, the European Food Safety Authority confirmed the unacceptable carcinogenic and genotoxic risk (1) of some contaminants in which palm oil is rich. And the serious danger of this tropical fat, for children and adolescents especially, as Efsa has stigmatized. But its manufacturers, and especially the behemoths that employ it in a myriad of foods, have known well of its toxicity for a dozen years or more. ‘Palm-leaks’.


Multinational food corporations have always registered severe criticism. In the past mainly due to environmental disasters, exploitation of local communities and workers, and child labor. Phenomena that have by no means disappeared (2) but have been mitigated to some extent and escaped the news spotlight. Media attention-though kept at bay by the big ‘lobbies’-now tends to focus on the health damage caused by irresponsible conduct of multinational corporations, such as the massive use of glyphosate and the incorrect promotion of foods high in sugar fat and sodium to which the epidemic of obesity and diabetes is associated (3).

On the subject of palm we have written extensively over the years. On its production first and foremost, which is a primary cause of ‘land grabbing’ and deforestation, still ongoing in Asia, Central Africa and Central and South America (4). On its widespread use in a myriad of foods, which for years has made its consumption in excessive amounts unavoidable, thus triggering inflammatory processes, hepatic steatosis and incurable diseases (5). When the news reached the ‘mainstream,’ the usual suspects launched a reprehensible disinformation campaign to confuse Italian consumers with the unreal fairy tale of ‘sustainable palm,’ indispensable to the industry and even beneficial to health. Until.

Health alert

‘European Food Safety Authority’
has made it definitively clear that the toxic substances contained in palm oil-and so, in all foods containing it-are seriously dangerous to human health. And it is not the dose that makes the poison since it is deadly, carcinogenic and genotoxic even in minute quantities (6). Children and adolescents are most at risk because of the ubiquitous presence of palm in the foods fed to them, and their low body weight on which toxicity has the greatest impact.

‘For ‘Infants’, the food groups ‘Infant and follow-on formulae’, ‘Vegetable fats and oils’ and ‘Cookies’ were the major contributors to 3- and 2-MCPD and glycidol exposure. For ‘Toddlers’, the food groups ‘Vegetable fats and oils’, ‘Cookies’ and ‘Pastries and cakes’ were the major contributors to 3- and 2-MCPD and glycidol exposure. […] In conclusion, estimated exposure substantially exceeding the group TDI for 3-MCPD is of concern; this is particularly seen in the younger age groups.’ (Efsa, 2016)

The ‘pro-palma’ castle of lies collapsed instantly, and its proponents had to tone it down (7), immediately calling on Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin for help so that – instead of measuring the contamination levels of so many renowned products, and ordering the immediate withdrawal from the market of those at risk – she would defer to the European Commission and the ‘working group’ any decision on what to do.

The European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis now has the task and responsibility to urgently take the necessary crisis management measures for the unavoidable safeguarding of the health of European consumers. It will also have to explain why the European Commission has neglected for years to consider the risks that, as will be seen, were well known not only to the ’10 big sisters’ of industrial production but also to the scientific community, national food safety authorities, and Efsa, which Back in 2013, she had already expressed herself On some of the contaminants in question.


No need to bother Julian Assange, a brief web search is enough to discover that ‘Big Food’ for a dozen years had exact knowledge of the dangers associated with palm oil consumption. And yet, in the pursuit of greater profit-rather than worrying about replacing this polluted fat to ensure food safety and the health of consumers, especially the youngest ones-it has increased its use. Doubling it, in just a few years.

‘seed oils (sunflower, coconut and rapeseed) contained significantly lower amounts of 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD than the refined palm oils.’ (Dr. Walburga Seefelder, Nestle 2009)

Nestle for example, in the presentation given by his researcher Dr. Richard Stadler (8) at a conference in Prague on April 21-22, 2009, he acknowledged that as early as 2007 the German Food Safety Authority had highlighted the need to reduce levels of carcinogenic contaminants in infant formulae and follow-on formulae. And industry research showed without question how ‘Seed oils typically considerably lower in MCPD esters than palm-based fats […].’ The danger of palm had been known for years, and other fats were known to be considerably safer. But instead of discontinuing the use of this shoddy and poisonous fat, ‘Big Food’ has limited itself to trying to reduce its toxicity with additional chemical treatments. Not enough, as Efsa reaffirmed.

Also Nestlé – through the voice of Dr. Walburga Seefelder, at the conference organized by ILSI (a Brussels-based research center funded by multinational food companies) in February 2009 – reiterated that the ‘seed oils (sunflower, coconut and rapeseed) contained significantly lower amounts of 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD bound in esters (typically <0.3 mg/kg 3-MCPD bound in esters and <0.15 mg/kg 2-MCPD bound in esters) than the refined palm oils (1.5-5.0 mg/kg 3-MCPD bound in esters and 0.7-3.0 mg/ kg 2-MCPD bound in esters)’.

The summary of the conference proceedings (9) states. ‘3-MCPD esters have been found in all refined vegetable oils. The… highest levels in refined palm oil (4.5-13 mg/kg)… In the EU, maximum levels of 0.02 mg/kg for free 3-MCPD in hydrolysed vegetable proteins and soy sauce were established in 2001’.

Dr. Rüdiger Weißhaar of the CVUA Institute in Stuttgart (10), on that same occasion, recalled that MCPD esters in processed foods were described in 2004, in a study by the University of Prague. Between 2007 and 2008, CVUA analyzed the presence of 3-mpcd in 400 animal fats and foods containing them. Detecting only minute traces of it in unrefined vegetable fats (such as extra-virgin olive) and animal fats (e.g., butter and cream), and instead significant levels in sweets, ‘infant formula,’ crackers and bars, to be attributed precisely to refined palm fat.

‘A significant exposure to 3-MCPD-esters for consumers exists! Refined palm oil in different kinds of foodstuffs is responsible for a significant part of exposure.[…] Negative aspects – Toxicology – Glycidol itselfs is “probably carcinogenic to humans”‘ (Dr. Rüdiger Weißhaar, CVUA Stuttgart, 2009)

The French Institute for Fats and Oils, in turn, had reported in 2009 at a ‘workshop’ organized by ‘Euro Fed Lipid’ (11) that ‘Free 3-MCPD is (…) thresholded carcinogenic and has a testicular and renal toxicity in rats.’

Palm was then the focus of a research project funded by the German food industry (FEI, ‘Research Association of the German Food Industry’) and the Ministry of Economics and Technology, which was initiated in 2007 with the aim of reducing the aforementioned genotoxic and carcinogenic contaminants from food (12).


The ‘Volkswagen’ case, in the cospect, is puerile nonsense. For at least three decades, ‘Big Food’ has deliberately produced and placed toxic food on the global market for the sole purpose of saving production costs and increasing profit margins. With the inevitable complacency, it goes without saying , of national and European institutions charged with food safety risk management. The ‘palm-risk’ is of absolute seriousness since these are not ‘possible stomach aches’ (as with mild salmonella contamination), but incurable diseases that can be transmitted to the next generation. Tumors and DNA damage. But one should not generalize, it is not the institutions nor ‘the system of industries’ to blame.

The public system of official controls he presidium of food safety has made great strides, starting on Feb. 12, 2000, when then-European Commission President Romano Prodi adopted the ‘White Paper on Food Safety,’ which was followed by the so-called ‘General Food Law’ (EC Reg. 178/02) and the ‘Hygiene Package’ (EC Reg. 852/04 et seq.). If something has gone wrong, in identifying and managing an emerging risk such as the one under consideration, those responsible for the relevant omissions, perhaps too susceptible to the most unscrupulous ‘lobbies,’ will therefore have to be identified. However, the system will have to be reconsidered (13), so that such episodes do not happen again, and above all, the ‘palm crisis’ must be addressed immediately, in a manner consistent with the scientific risk assessment performed by Efsa.

Food industries are complex organizations that employ a lot of manpower, participate in the economy of various territories (14) and in every case–with rare exceptions, such as the one under review–make safe food that is accessible to large segments of the population through reasonable value for money. Certainly not everyone and indeed very few knew about the toxicity of palm, outside the small circle of giants participating in international organizations and conferences where the risks were given due consideration. When even thinking about ‘Big Food,’ it is not the brands and organizations that you need to look at. Rather, one must identify the reponsibilities of individuals – of those who occupied and still occupy top positions – in the big industries and organizations of reference, who well knew the danger and decided to give a damn, to contribute to a lucrative collective poisoning in the name of the God-money. But this will have to be dealt with by the judiciary.

Instead, consumAtors can express their outrage without undermining the economics of these organizations and their respective jobs by choosing to buy only palm oil-free foods. They will thus be able to accelerate the necessary turnaround, the ‘phasing out’ of those products that need to disappear from the shelves as soon as possible, for the reasons mentioned above. They will at the same time protect their own health and that of their loved ones, and force public and private decision makers to reset their strategies, in a truly ethical and value-conscious direction, which in this case has clearly been neglected. CSV (‘Contributing to Social Values’ 15), is the paradigm that we all, ‘from the farm to the fork,’ should share. For a better world that is always possible, starting with everyone’s small gestures.

Dario Dongo



(2) Some topical examples beyond the palm tree:

– child labor in the cocoa supply chain

– slavery in fishing

(3),à-d enterprise-the-challenge-of-obesity-and-diabetes

(4) assault,à-e-divergenze-il-caso-mc-donald-s,





(9) %20MCPD%


(11) %203MCPD%

(12) Project presented in Brussels, at ILSI’s ‘workshop’ ‘on MCPD and Glycidyl esters in Food Products’,

(13) Attention to the so-called REFIT, ‘Regulatory Fitness and Performance Program,’ should come focused on improving food safety, rather than deviating off-topic (e.g.,

(14) It is worth mentioning that food is the leading manufacturing sector in Europe, by volume of sales, with a positive trade balance of €7.2 billion, in the fourth quarter of 2015,