Leading experts inform European Parliament on controversial aspects of palm oil

Posted on: March 27, 2014

On March 18, 2014 leading experts exchanged facts and views with members of the European Parliament (MEPs) about the sustainability and nutritional aspects of palm oil. Prof Hornstra stressed that based on scientific insights palm oil as an ingredient was neither bad nor good and that total replacement of saturated fats is impossible because of the structural properties of some products in our diet. Adam Harrison of WWF stated “The problem is not palm oil itself, but where and how it is produced. Replacing palm oil with other oil crop production may prove more harmful and is not the solution”. The MEPs present endorsed the speakers’ appeal to go into the public debate and inform consumers of basic, important facts about sustainable palm oil and health. They agreed that this effort would be of increased importance for the next European Parliament 2014 - 2019.

Palm oil is subject to increasingly negative media pressure, often fuelled by conflicting interests. The lunch debate in the European Parliament allowed leading experts to exchange facts and views with members of the European Parliament  on the sustainability and nutritional aspects of palm oil:

  • Prof. Gerard Hornstra, emeritus nutrition professor at Maastricht University specialised in fatty acids and member of the Scientific  Advisory Panel of the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA).
  • Adam Harrison, senior policy officer on food and agriculture, WWF International
  • Danielle Morley, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) European director of outreach & engagement
  • Dr. Alain Rival, senior agronomist at CIRAD & author of the book “La palme des controverses - Palmier à huile et enjeux de développement”

The audience was very receptive and attendees used the opportunity to openly discuss and better understand the issues concerning palm oil.

Prof. Hornstra highlighted the need for better nutrition education and more easily understandable  communication to consumers on fat and health. He stressed that based on scientific insights palm oil as an ingredient is neither bad nor good. “Palm fruit oil contains 50 per cent saturated and 50 per cent unsaturated fatty acids, relatively high amounts of antioxidants and is commonly used in a mix with other oils and fats. And although replacement of saturated fatty acids with poly unsaturated fatty acids has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, consumption of saturated fat intake in itself is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.” He added that “Total replacement of saturated fatty acids is impossible because of the texture, stability, and functional properties of some products in our diet”.

Adam Harrison of WWF stressed the importance to support a shift to more sustainable production techniques. He said the big challenge we face is the production of palm oil on peat land. He stated “The problem is not palm oil itself, but where and how it is produced. Replacing palm oil with other oil crop production may prove more harmful and is absolutely not the solution”.

The participants underlined the importance of European manufacturers public commitments through national alliances in a number of European countries[1] to only use certified sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015. Furthermore, they strongly opposed the use of zero palm oil claims which fuel misconceptions among consumers and undermine the positive advances towards a sustainable palm oil value chain.

 

[1] Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK

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