Is Palm Oil Dangerous? Recent Study Said “No”

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To reopen the debate on the authenticity or the potential damage caused by palm oil consumption, on January 13, Ferrero proudly claimed the usage of vegetable oil in their products. The Alba Multinational, founded in 1946 by Pietro Ferrero, opposed “no palm oil” campaign by big Italian and international food companies.

Regarding palm oil, one of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) studies in May 2016 stated that at temperatures above 200 °C, not only palm oil, other vegetable oils could also develop toxic substances. And the debate was continued until the beginning of 2017, concluded as well by The University of Naples (links are provided below).

Products that Contain Palm Oil

Globally, palm oil is used for around 80% in the food industry (for cooking oil, margarine, confectionery, bakery and a lot of processed food); around 19% in cosmetics, soaps, lubricants and greases, pharmacies, paints and varnishes and the remaining 1% is used in the production of biodiesel, which is a sustainable energy resource.

ISTAT data showed that Italy has imported, in 2014 itself, 1,600,000 tons of palm oil. 21% of which was used by the food industry while the remaining 79% was used in the bio-energy fields, livestock, oleo-chemical, cosmetic and pharmacy.

EFSA’s Study and  the Toxic substances

Discussions about the potential damage to health caused by the consumption of palm oil have grown into concern after the publication of a study of 284 pages published by the Authority European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in May 2016.

In its document, EFSA explained that when any vegetable oil is used at very high temperatures, equal to or higher than 200 °C, some dangerous substances can be formed, which are potentially toxic and carcinogenic. However, If this study is applicable to all types of vegetable oils, why is the danger only indicated in palm oil and palm kernel? The answer, according to the EFSA, is given by the fact that in these last two products, the concentration of the harmful substances could be greater than the other oils examined.

In its conclusion, however, EFSA didn’t state clearly its opposition against the consumption of palm oil because, it is hard to reach dangerous level for the body if it is consumed with a normal diet without exaggeration. Now let’s see some different famous cases

Ferrero

Ferrero has always used the palm oil as one of the ingredients in more than its forty products on the snack market and the brand is not willing to back down. We are talking about one of the giants in Italian industry with over 33,000 employees, 20 manufacturing facilities around the world and a turnover of over 9.5 billion euro in only 2015.

In a video filmed to celebrate 70 years of the company, the managers and employees claimed the authenticity of all the ingredients used in the production process, including palm oil. Every year, they involve 185,000 tons from 59 factories and 249 plantations located in Peninsular Malaysia (74% of the total), Papua New Guinea (17.4%), Eastern Malaysia (3.8%), Indonesia (1.7%), Brazil (1.0%) and the Solomon Islands (0.1%). It includes around 27,510 totally regarding small farms and small farmers involved.

Palm oil in Nutella

And let’s talk about the flagship product of Ferrero, Nutella, which is produced in 1 million jars daily in a factory of 15,000 square meters, which employs 200 people. Nutella contains 20% of palm oil that supports the presence of the product.

According to them, it allows greater resistance to oxidation than other vegetable oils and it is necessary to give the product “its creamy consistency.” In addition, palm oil enhances the flavour of the other ingredients.

The ingredient not only gives a neutral smell and fragrance able to combine well with the characteristic taste of the hazelnuts, it is also the crucial element that contributes to the typical creamy consistency of Nutella. This product is achieved without the hydrogenation process or refinery that could produce trans fats that are harmful to human’s health.

The Cost of Palm oil and Environmental Issue

There is the only qualitative question to make palm oil an essential ingredient for the production of Nutella. Also based on the decision of Ferrero to continue to use this ingredient, there may even be an important matter regarding the economic reason.

Palm oil costs $800 per ton, which is lower than the price of sunflower seeds oil ($845 per ton) and the price of rapeseed oil ($920 per ton). According to estimation made according to the current market prices, the transition from one type of oil to another will cost another 8 to 22 million dollars a year.

In 2016, Greenpeace has given the company Palm Oil Scorecard 2016. It guarantees 100% traceability of the supply chain and the sustainability of the product offered. In addition, Ferrero also obtained two certifications from RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and POIG (Palm Oil Innovation Group), thanks to the transparency of its corporate policy.

The recognition from environmentalists is significant, considering that one of the main issues of discussion on palm oil is about the protection of the environment. The issue first came to the public following the development achieved in recent years in the production volumes of palm oil.

Large companies have been accused of doing deforestation for palm oil plantation and therefore, it resulted in a strong impact to the environment. It was discussed to be in particular techniques such as monocultures of palm, drainage and generic peat land fires. Some methods are considered as the cause of the increase in CO2 emissions into the environment and the possible extinction of some animal species such as orang-utans.

The Opinions of Scientific Communities

No real problem regarding health has been issued by the major world health authorities about palm oil consumption in the daily diet. Not even the main fight against cancer organizations such as AIRC, Lilt and Veronese Foundation, have ever mentioned about the correlation between the consumption of palm oil and the possibility of developing cancer. What remains valid is the recommendation to keep the intake of saturated fat from any resources below 10% of the daily energy.

And, even in a study of February 2016 done by The Superior Institute of Health, they stated that, in detecting a particular prevalence of saturated fats in palm oil compared to other vegetable oils, they simultaneously averted the carcinogenic dangers to health and mentioned, “Currently, there are no available prospective studies specifically designed to determine the possible association of palm oil consumption and occurrence of cancer in humans.”

For reading further from both English and Italian sources, please consult to the links provided below:

  1. Olio di Palma – from TG24, Sky
  2. University of Naples – Olio di Palma Non Fa Male
  3. Olio di Palma Non E’ Cancerogeno – Adnkronos
  4. Disinformazione – Olio di Palma – AIRC.IT
  5. L’info sull’olio di palma
  6. Fondazione Veronesi sull’olio di palma
  7. Sustanaible Palm Oil – RSPO
  8. Palm Oil Innovation Group
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