17 Enero 2017 15:43
Italians stop buying the country’s favourite chocolate spread
Italians have stopped buying Nutella, the country’s favourite hazelnut and chocolate spread. The spread is manufactured by Italian company Ferrero, but it’s on sale in stores all over the world. Now, however, consumers have started eyeing it with suspicion. Why? The European Food Standards Authority have claimed that palm oil, which the product contains, can cause cancer.
In May, the EFSA issued a report saying that ‘a low level of palm oil consumption is dangerous for children, and frequent consumption presents a risk to all.’
The cancer fears centre on compounds known as glycidol fatty acid esters (GE), which are produced in palm oil when it is heated above 200 degrees Celsius during processing. These fatty acids can modify DNA and cause cancer.
Helle Knutsen, Chair of EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) believes that ‘There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic. Therefore, the CONTAM panel did not set a safe level for GE.’
Although the report did not mention specific brands or products, Nutella has borne the brunt of the ensuing backlash. Seven Italian supermarket chains, including Coop – the country’s biggest – have pulled own-brand products containing palm oil from their shelves, and replaced them with products containing alternative oils.
Coop hasn’t withdrawn palm oil products made by other brands however, because, according to the chain, ‘that decision is up to the companies that manufacture those products.’
However, the swift and decisive response taken by the big supermarkets has put pressure on Ferrero, one of the world’s most famous confectioners, to act. The once-beloved company has begun to be viewed with suspicion by consumers, and is now faced with the possibility of plummeting sales.
However, Nutella has never hidden the fact that it uses palm oil in its ingredients. In fact, it strongly defends its use of the oil. Since news of the report broke, Ferrero has taken a series of steps to try and restore consumer confidence in the product.
Firstly, it issued a statement saying that the palm oil it uses is sustainable and certified by the RSPO: ‘The palm fruit oil used in Nutella does not contribute to deforestation, species extinction, high greenhouse gas emissions, or human rights violations.’ Since 2015, the company has been a member of the POIG Palm Oil Innovation Group: an initiative to reform the palm oil sector.
Secondly, the company argued that they process the oil at temperatures much lower than 200 degrees Celsius, and so it does not produce the potentially harmful acids.
Finally, the company launched an advertising campaign in Italy featuring the sales director, Vincenzo Tapella, assuring the public directly about the safety of Nutella. In the ad, he refutes claims that the brand uses palm oil to lower costs, claiming that the oil is employed because ‘making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward.’
Nonetheless, The Telegraph has calculated that palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil on the market, and that to replace it, Nutella would have to spend an extra $8-22 million a year.