Palm lobby trudges on mirrors and reacts to Great Italian Food Trade article “Palm Leaks, Multinationals Knew”


The palm lobby continues to slide, following Efsa’s verdict on the tropical fat’s risk of carcinogenicity and toxicity. He thus returns to the charge, disputing the news reported by Great Italian Food Trade in the article “Palm Leaks, Multinationals Knew.”

Great Italian Food Trade, on closer inspection, has done nothing more than collect data from independent sources-such as studies published by universities and research organizations, reports from European (Efsa) and German food safety authorities-as well as presentations made by Nestlé at international conferences. In all fairness, the objections and related comments are attached.

Those who defend palm oil. UPS?

The dangerous tropical fat is now completely disliked by consumers, to the point that both the leaders of the large-scale retail trade (Coop Italia and Esselunga in the lead) and the most attentive confectionery industries also highlight in advertising its exclusion from the recipes of their products. But some still resist, in spite of all evidence.

Representing this is the “Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil” (UPS), a fledgling association that in just a few months, since late 2015, has invaded the national media with an advertising campaign aimed at convincing consumers about the supposed ‘goodness’ of the tropical fat.

“Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil” (UPS) is composed of the industrial giants that use this fat in the production of food and other consumer goods: Nestlé, Unilever, Unigrà and Ferrero, according to the association’s official website. Alongside them, “associate members” include AIDEPI (Association of Italian Confectionery and Pasta Industries, which is ‘primarily’ joined by the industrial groups mentioned above, in addition to Barilla) and ASSITOL (Italian Association of the Olive Oil Industry, where Unigrà sits instead).

Curiously, it is precisely this UPS association, which we never mentioned, and which claims to be working on palm oil sustainability, that is demanding a “rectification” of the above objective data. Let’s see how.

UPS’s “contentions,” or “theories.”

In order to properly inform the uninitiated, we expose the “contentions,” which it is perhaps more appropriate to call “theories,” of the “Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil” (UPS).

Theory no. 1 – “It is not true that we are witnessing an invasion of palm oil and that 4 times as much is being consumed (through food) in recent years.”

UPS disputes the ISTAT data we cited on the quantities of palm imported into Italy in recent years, and its increasing use in the food industry. We have initiated audits, together with Food Fact, and will provide an update. After all, it was not until December 2014 that it was possible to discover how this tropical fat was present in a myriad of foods, thanks to the implementation of EU Regulation 1169/11, which required the hitherto concealed nature of “vegetable oils and fats” mentioned in ingredient lists to be specified on the label.

Even when the numbers given by UPS turn out to be correct, it is their reading in light of the Efsa opinion that is worrying. The widespread use of palm oil in foods, and particularly on foods for children and adolescents, may have already caused widespread activation of organic changes or inflammatory processes.

Theory no. 2 – “It is not true that ‘companies knew’ as early as 2004 that the presence of these contaminants was dangerous to consumers’ health.”

The “palm leaks” published by Great Italian Food Trade show that as early as 2004 universities, research organizations and public authorities began publishing international toxicological studies on the hazard and recurrence-in palm, and in foods containing it-of the contaminants 3-mcpd, 2-mcpd, GE.

“Big Food” could not “not know, and in fact participated in both special working groups and international conferences dedicated to this. “Industry members” of the ILSI (“International Life Science Institute,” Brussels) working group on said contaminants in a 2009 report include Kraft Foods, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo International, Premier Foods, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, among others.

The “Palma leaks” included a presentation by a Nestle researcher at an international symposium in 2009, where he cited the report issued in 2007 by the German Food Safety Authority to highlight the need to reduce levels of carcinogenic contaminants in infant formula and follow-on formulas.

“Big Food” well knew the outcomes of the research. conducted in Germany by the German Authority and theCVUA institute that, after measuring – between 2007 and 2008 – levels of carcinogen contamination in 400 foods, had in turn confirmed the risk profiles of palm oil wherever it is used. From Germany, Europe’s leading food-producing country, the world leader Nestlé had, among other things, commanded one of its executives, Dr. Gunther Fricke, to chair the “Food Safety Management” Working Group at the Confederation of Agri-Food Industries in Europe (CIAA, now Food Drink Europe) in those years.

In fact, the “Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil” (UPS) itself most recently, in a televised meeting on May 6, 2016, confirmed that the industry knew about the risks related to palm oil consumption (in the 56th minute).

Theory no. 3 – “Products that contain palm oil should not be considered hazardous to consumer health.”

UPS tries to downplay the scientific assessments of Efsa, the European Food Safety Authority, by proposing as a “counterbalance” the opinions of the Mario Negri Institute (2014) and ISS (2015), in which, however, the dangers of the contaminants in which palm is rich do not appear to have been considered.

He almost seems to take pleasure, UPS, in the guilty inaction of the European Commission which-with all due respect to the opinion published by Efsa on May 3, 2016, and its own primary role in safeguarding the health of our citizens-has not yet taken the necessary measures to manage the food safety risk in question.

It is therefore worth recalling some passages from the conclusions of the above-mentioned Efsa opinion, extracted from its press release.

On GE contaminants:

“The highest levels of GE as well as 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD (including esters) were found in palm oils and palm fats, followed by other oils and fats. For consumers three years of age and older, margarines and ‘cakes and pies’ were found to be the main sources of exposure to all substances.”

“There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic.”

“GE exposure of infants consuming exclusively infant formula is a particular cause for concern, as it is up to ten times the level considered a low risk to public health.”

On 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD contaminants:

“We established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.8 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day (µg/kg body weight/day) for 3-MCPD and related fatty acid esters based on evidence linking this substance to organ damage in animal tests.”

“Estimated average and high exposures to 3-MCPD of both forms for younger age groups, including adolescents (up to 18 years of age), exceed the DGT and pose a potential health risk.”

“Toxicological information is too limited to establish a safe level for 2-MCPD.”

“Palm oil is a major contributor to 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD exposure in most subjects. Levels of 3-MCPD and its fatty acid esters in vegetable oils have remained essentially unchanged over the past five years.”

“The scientific panel also made a number of recommendations that further research be conducted to fill data gaps and improve knowledge about the toxicity of these substances, particularly 2-MCPD, and consumers’ exposure to them through food.”

Dario Dongo

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.