‘Palm-leaks’, Italian confectionery industry association slips again

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It’s raining stones, on the case of carcinogenic and genotoxic palm oil. But they will not be enough to bury the dossier that now looms-among others-on the authorities responsible for safeguarding the public’s health, with regard to the contaminants found by Efsa to be seriously dangerous.

We receive from confidential sources and publish, among the“Palma-leaks,” a“position document” from the association of confectionery industries in Italy, Aidepi, dated May 16, 2016 (see exhibit 1).

The association aims to reassure Italian consumers about the safety of member companies’ products, but without adding analytical data to the ongoing debate. He recalls the Efsa opinion (1) on the presence of 3-mcpd and GE contaminants“in many foods including some baked goods,” trying to “spread” the problem over the entire category of refined vegetable oils. In the ill-concealed goal of hiding what has been apparent in every research for at least 12 years, namely that toxic agents are present in palm fat to a vastly greater extent than in any other.

The European Food Safety Authority has the sole task of scientific risk assessment, the document reiterates, while it is up to the European Commission to manage it. There almost seems to be confidence in the mildness of Brussels’ approach, about which we have in fact already expressed concern (2). It is worth mentioning, among other things, that the so-called“General Food Law” affirms the primary responsibility of food business operators, who-when they have even a well-founded fear of unsafeness-must immediately take action to recall and/or recall products (3).

Some words of a senior executive of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità are artfully extrapolated, with nods to previous opinions of the same body, and of the Mario Negri Institute, in a vacuous attempt to “restore virginity” to palm oil. They still shuffle the cards on the safety and quality of different lipid sources, even to the point of adducing “It is not a given that switching from palm to other vegetable fats will be decisive.” Forgetting that it was the“Big Food” researchers themselves who pointed out the“significantly lower amounts” of toxic agents (4), in seed oils compared to palm. And to share the safety of extra-virgin olive oil and butter.

“Is it true that companies knew about the potentially toxic and carcinogenic effects of palm oil?” In the “Q&A” in the margins of the paper, question-and-answer with defense of office,“The companies had received reassurances over the past few years about the absence of toxic effects of palm oil, per se, from the scientific community and health authorities.”

Can we really believe that industry multinationals have ignored the signs of risk that have clearly emerged since 2004? The“Palma-leaks” (4), as well as previous attempts to defend trade representations would suggest the exact opposite. That is to say, the risks were well known and attempts were in fact made to mitigate them, albeit with unsatisfactory results.

The last straw is then the harsh criticism of Coop Italia, Italy’s leading distribution group, for reacting swiftly to what was stated in the latest Efsa opinion (5), declaring the immediate suspension of the production of foods under its own brand that contained palm oil, as potentially dangerous. Among other things, the critique is based on a conceptual error–referring to the “precautionary principle” (6), which should animate policy choices in risk management–rather than to the dutiful corrective actions of operators (7). The question remains whether the front of the Italian brand-name industries is really so united in wanting to defend the use of the shoddy tropical oil at all costs.

Breaking news. Avvenire interview with Aidepi director

The day after this‘leak‘ was published, the daily newspaper Avvenire published an interview with the director of the Aidepi association, which echoed its contents. Some color notes are added to the cyclostyle:

– the effort to “unload the barrel” (“our industry, however, is not vegetable oils“…). As if the industrial confectionery processing giants, in “selecting raw materials,” could refrain from assessing risks on their safety, i.e., to conceal them,
– The questioning of the scientific value of Efsa’s assessment (“land Italian companies are ready to manage and nullify any possible risk once it is actually confirmed.”). Instead, since Efsa’s primary role is precisely to assess food safety risk on a European scale, there is no “actual confirmation” to wait for,

– butter would be completely comparable to palm,“therefore its replacement would not bring appreciable benefits.” Indeed, even“butter cannot be used in every reference, as it would characterize the product by organoleptically overpowering the other ingredients.”

Yet:

1) Replacing palm with butter would have the first significance of eliminating carcinogenic and genotoxic contaminants from foods often aimed at children and adolescents,

2) a second meaning would be to keep Italian stables alive and thus the integrity of the supply chain, the guarantee on controls, not least food sovereignty,

3) instead of rambling on in Masterchef-like disquisitions belied by the goodness of traditionally made desserts, a modicum of sincerity would suffice. Palm is half the price of butter, and the savings for some giants are priceless,

– The devaluation of the movement against the use of palm oil in foods (“the emotional impact of negative news (…) is ridden by those who advance nonexistent crusades“). If the metaphor is already in bad taste, the “nonexistent crusade” or at any rate lost is that of those who almost seem to put the interests of Asian palm oligarchs ahead of those of the domestic confectionery industry, in any case always in opposition to Italian consumers. The latter, but not the least, have already expressed manifest aversion to a fat that can be detrimental to health for a variety of reasons and whose production is still a primary cause of land robbery and deforestation.

Breaking news. Clarification from the National Institute of Health

A few hours later, the National Institute of Health intervened with a press release (see all. 2) aimed at refuting the said association for having“extrapolated” some of its executive’s words. Indeed, it is true that EFSA has not provided guidance on consumption, but that is only because it is not within its institutional mandate.
Instead, the state of scientific knowledge outlined in the EFSA opinion will be taken up by the European Commission, which will be responsible for triggering any regulatory decisions on consumption.”
To each his own comments…

Dario Dongo

ANNEX 1 Position Aidepi on EFSA_plant oils 16-05-162016516145144977

Notes
(1) https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/news-food-times/l’palm-oil-contains-carcinogenic-and-genotoxic-substances-efsa-alerts-for-children-and-adolescents-%C2%A0in-Italy-consumption-record
(2) https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/news-food-times/palma-leaks-grande-puzza-di-bruciato-anche-a-bruxelles
(3) “If a food business operator believes or has reason to believe that a food imported, produced, processed, processed or distributed by him or her is not in compliance with food safety requirements, and the food is no longer under the immediate control of that food business operator, he or she shall immediately initiate procedures to withdraw the food and inform the competent authorities. If the product may have reached the consumer, the operator shall effectively and accurately inform consumers of the reason for the recall and, if necessary, recall products already supplied to consumers when other measures are insufficient to achieve a high level of health protection” (EC Reg. 178/02, Article 19,“Food-related obligations: food business operators,” para. 1)
(4) https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/news-food-times/palma-leaks-le-multinazionali-di-big-food-conoscevano-da-una-dozzina-d-anni-il-pericolo-cancro-e-genotossicità-per-bambini-e-adolescenti
(5) https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/news-food-times/coop-elimina-il-palma-da-tutti-i-suoi-prodotti-il-primo-gesto-concreto-dopo-l-allarme-efsa
(6) See reg. EC 178/02, Article 7,“Precautionary Principle
(7) “Food business operators responsible for retail or distribution activities that do not affect the packaging, labeling, safety, or integrity of the food shall, within the limits of their respective activities, initiate procedures to withdraw products from the market that do not comply with food safety requirements and help ensure the safety of food” (EC Reg. 178/02, Article 19,“Food-related obligations: food business operators,” para. 2).