Everyone breathe slowly…. but a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found that palm oil, a key ingredient in Nutella could pose a cancer risk. The internet is currently in meltdown as lovers of Ferrero’s chocolate spread collectively freak out. While everyone is going nuts* over the news, we’re taking a closer look at what the story is all about.
This confirmation that palm oil is more carcinogenic than any other oil comes on the back of similar claims by the Word Health Organisation and other recognised studies.
What’s Does The Research Say?
It’s understood that the high temperatures used to remove palm oil’s natural red colour and neutralise it smell causes contaminants called glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) to form. According to the Daily Mail, when consumed this is known to break down and produce glycidol, a compound strongly believed to cause tumors.
@SeanaGasson well I'm fucked I've just polished off a family pack in a week on my own
— Ellen Clancy (@ClancyEllen) January 11, 2017
Why Is Nutella Copping The Heat Now?
While this research was published several months ago and many other popular products use the cheap oil, it’s a new defensive ad campaign by Ferrero that has inflamed the issue and brought Nutella into the spotlight. After all, the spread is made up of 20% modified palm oil.
The spread’s makers have just launched TV and newspaper ads across Italy attempting to explain why they use the ingredient in their product in an effort to ‘educate’ people.
However, from a PR point of view, the result is chaos, with Ferrero singling themselves out while other brands keep hush. Unsurprisingly the headlines today play directly to the fear that Nutella causes cancer.
Take this screenshot from Google at noon today:
What does Nutella Say?
The public safety campaign explains to consumers that Nutella relies on palm oil for its smooth texture and shelf life. It defends palm oil by saying that substitutes, such as sunflower oil, would change its character. In a statement by Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella:
“Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward“.
Why They Are (Likely) So Defensive About Using The Stuff…
The ad fails to mention the economic cost for the company to shift away from its current ingredients. Palm oil is the cheapest oil on the market and switching up the ingredients could cost Ferrero an extra $8-22 million a year in production. NewsAisa points out that palm oil costs “around US$800 a ton, compared with US$845 for sunflower oil and US$920 for rapeseed oil”.
All other reports also fail to mention that the original Nutella recipe had no palm oil in it at all and instead relied only on cacao butter. Palm oil was likely originally chosen as a way to maintain texture at a much cheaper cost to boost profits.
Meanwhile, the Italian company assures consumers that it uses an industrial process that combines a temperature of just below 200C and extremely low pressure to minimise contaminants in its oil. “The palm oil used by Ferrero is safe because it comes from freshly squeezed fruits and is processed at controlled temperatures,” it says in the current TV and newspaper commercials.
What about the other brands using Palm Oil?
At this stage, it’s likely everyone else is keeping quite while Nutella takes all the heat. Unilever and Nestle who also use palm oil in chocolate, snacks and margarine have both released comments to say they are monitoring contaminant issues and are working with their suppliers to keep GE at lowest possible levels. It’s pretty weak stuff and it’s most likely they’ll wait for the press to cool down and resume BAU.
What do you think?
In an age where nearly everything seems like it causes cancer – are you worried about the health risks of palm oil? Is today’s news enough to put you off the spread? Let us know in these comments on Facebook.
*sorry, not sorry for bad puns