A European report is claiming that refined palm oil, a key ingredient in Nutella, could be a possible carcinogen. In response to the news, some retailers have boycotted the item, pulling it from grocery store shelves across Europe.
Although initial concerns about palm oil were announced by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) in May, the news is only just reaching the US, where there are currently no FDA restrictions against its use.
Many processed foods use palm oil, including ice cream, pastries, cake mixes, margarine, and packaged bread. The oil can also be found in some non-edible items.
1. The EFSA Claims That Palm Oil Can Pose a Cancer Risk
In May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claimed that palm oil is potentially carcinogenic when processed at high temperatures, and “generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius.” Glycidyl fatty acid ester (GE) is at the center of the cancer concerns, and GE is only produced when palm oil is heated above 200°C.
In May, the chair of the ESFA panel that investigated palm oil, said: “There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic, therefore the Contam panel did not set a safe level for GE.” The ESFA has not yet recommended stopping the use of palm oil.
On December 7, an academic study funded partially by UK charity Worldwide Cancer Research claimed a link between palm oil and the rapid spread of cancer in mice. Mice who were fed a high fat diet and large amounts of palmitic acid (a large component of palm oil) developed the most aggressive cancer spread, according to the study.
2. Ferrero Is Defending the Use of Palm Oil
Ferrero, an Italian corporation, has launched an advertising campaign to assure the public of Nutella’s safety.
In their commercial campaign, Ferrero says that Nutella would not be the same without palm oil and that they “use it in a way that isn’t dangerous.” In the add, Ferrero’s purchasing manager, Vincenzo Tapella, explains that the palm oil used by Ferrero is not only processed at a controlled temperature, but it comes from freshly squeezed fruits, making it safe.
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3. Nutella Was Trending on Twitter Wednesday Night
As of Wednesday evening, Nutella was trending on Twitter, and people across the globe were voicing their opinions on the news. Many have commented that despite cancer claims, eating Nutella is still worth it.
4. Palm Oil Is the Cheapest Vegetable Oil
Palm oil is the cheapest oil in the market, and Ferrero uses about 185,000 tons of the ingredient each year, according to the SF Gate. A switch away from palm oil could cost anywhere from $8 to $22 million more each year.
Tapella has also said using another oil in place of palm oil would change the character of Nutella. Tapella told Reuters, “Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward.”
5. Nutella Profits Have Gone Down 3%
According to the Daily Mail, Nutella’s profits have taken a 3% hit since the EFSA claimed palm oil is more carcinogenic than any other oil.
Nutella makes up about a fifth of Ferrero’s sales, according to Channel NewsAsia, and the palm oil industry is currently valued at $44 billion.
As of January 11, the US Food and Drug Administration had not banned using palm oil in food.