Palm oil free: It’s good, but who for?

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The palm oil free claim is a decoy. It is now so apparent that to have admitted this are the very companies that have used it as a marketing tool. In fact, the “palm oil free” label deceives consumers into thinking that the product has improved. But this is not always the case.

The palm oil free claim is a decoy. It is now so apparent that to have admitted this are the very companies that have used this marketing tool in an effort to grab themselves a share of the market that had already become saturated and stagnant. It is no accident, therefore, that the scientific world has always expressed its concerns about this disparaging strategy.

Most recently Professor Pietro MigliaccioPresident of the Italian Society of Nutritional Science,  clearly highlighted how “‘palm oil free’, ‘gluten free’ or ‘lactose free’ food products’ are linked more to market logic than they are to health issues” (ADNKronos).

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Good for us?

Not everyone knows that the main ingredient in palm oil, i.e. palmitic acid, is the most common fatty acid found in mother’s milk. Similarly, the fact that 50% of fats found in palm oil are unsaturated is also overlooked.

There is no scientific evidence that shows that palm oil has negative effects on health, when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Are saturated fats the problem? Butter, for example, has more than palm oil, and yet it is lauded by everyone.

There is no reason whatsoever to replace palm oilAs our study shows, in fact, in many cases the substitution of palm oil has not resulted in any improvements in the nutritional characteristics of products. The “palm oil free” label, therefore, deceives consumers into thinking that the product has improved. But this is not always the case.

Good for the planet?

On an environmental level, palm plantations are not exempt from responsibility when it comes to deforestation, but this is undoubtedly a lot less than other crops or farms. Most of the palm oil imported into Europe is certified as sustainable, that is to say it does not cause deforestation and its farming protects the environment. In other words, sustainable palm oil is preferable to any other non-certified vegetable oil (sunflower, rapeseed, soya).

Why not use sustainable palm oil? How sustainable are the crops from which the fats that replace palm oil are obtained?

Good for them?

Evidence of this commercial farce comes from the companies themselves that are now clutching at straws to justify their decision.

Recently the Italian food company Divella admitted, when it came to glyphosate, that: “This is the same scaremongering that was used with regard to palm oil in baked goods. Now, only sunflower oil is used, but this has different qualities and characteristics that are not always better for consumers (Libero Quotidiano). Understood? And yet, the wording “palm oil free” continues to appear on the labels of Divella products.

In a recent interview with the General Confederation of Italian Industry’s mouthpiece, Dr. Guido Barilla explained how the company has invested €30 million in replacing palm oil. And yet Barilla had always defended the use of palm oil against attacks by health and environmental NGOs.

In a conference, held at the Italian Parliament on 14/10/2015, Paolo Barilla stated that with regard to the accusations made against palm oil,  “we are faced with a veritable national hysteria. We have naively fallen into a media trap that risks seriously damaging Italian industry” (Formiche.net). Then, suddenly, without any scientific consistency, he decided to abandon it.

There are companies in Italy and Europe that continue to use palm oil, the sale of which is growing significantly the world over, but not in Italy. These companies invest in sustainability and above all they do not pretend to believe in the health farce to conceal desperate commercial strategies.

For Guido Barilla the sustainability of the food system  around the world is under threat “and a responsible entrepreneur cannot fail to take this into account” (Il Corriere della Sera). Before saving the world, they should simply worry about not misleading consumers with a claim that is potentially fake, from a legal perspective.

Let them tell the truth: palm oil is not harmful, it is sustainable, but we prefer not to use it. It would be a questionable decision, but at least it would be transparent and coherent. Otherwise, the Barilla fairy tale would have an ending.

For Free Choice aims to promote scientific information and method in public discourse. For Free Choice also defends consumers’ choice rights against the smear and demonizing campaigns which aim to confuse them and benefit specific interests.

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