We have been following for years and with increasing interest the tragic events of land robberies – called land grabbing – and deforestation linked to the production of palm oil in tropical countries. Up to launching a petition, signed by Great Italian Food Trade and Il Fatto Alimentare, aimed at enforcing the exclusion of palm from food production. With a clear objective, to put a stop to a question that still continues to find answers that are not compatible with the rights of local people and biodiversity protection. We have collected more than 150 thousand signatures, as well as a following of the press, and now we come across the first reaction of the producers. The worst and the most out of place.
A huge signboard stands out at the Expo, at the Malaysian pavilion, stating the supposed illegitimacy of information such as ‘without palm oil’, or ‘Palm Oil Free’, on food labels. The sign does not refer to the Malaysian legislation concerning labels – from which you might even expect a position in favor of the palm, of which Malaysia and Indonesia are the first global exporters – but to the European, the French and Belgian legislation. Not even referring to specific laws, but to the opinion of ‘experts in the legal field’ and ‘a renowned law firm’ that – at the service of palm oil producers – has expressed a questionable interpretation, by its very nature, of the 1169/2011 EU Regulation (called Food Information to Consumers).
It’s a vicious circle. It must be remembered that the resounding success of palm oil, in Europe as well as in the US, is associated with the widespread use – in the labeling and advertising of a myriad of food products, especially baked ones – of the entries’ hydrogenated fat ‘and’ without hydrogenated oils’. Just when global consumers were made aware of the dangers to their health of the c.d. artificial trans-fatty acids, deriving from the partial hydrogenation of seed oils, large industries replaced the latter with the palm that, in addition to costing less than everything else, is solid in itself without any need to be hydrogenated. And if we wanted to take a step back again, we might remember that hydrogenated oils were introduced in Europe at the time with directions on the label such as ‘without butter’, after the media campaign of demonization of butter whose authorship is attributed to the all too obvious large producers of vegetable margarines.
Under the EU regulation 1169/2011, ‘the provision of food information tends to a high level of protection of consumers’ health and interests by providing a basis for final consumers to make informed choices and to use food safely, respecting in particular health, economic, environmental, social and ethical deliberations‘ (Article 3 General objectives). On this basis, it is certainly permissible to use the label of optional information – including that relating to the ingredients – provided they are clear, understandable and truthful, therefore demonstrable. Without ever suggesting ‘that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular highlighting explicitly the presence or absence of certain ingredients and / or nutrients’ (Article 7.1.c , fair information practices).
The environmental, economic, social and ethical issues linked to a conscious choice of consumption are therefore reflected in a variety of commercial pieces of information accompanying foods. Indications such as ‘GM-free’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegan’, ‘no pork’, ‘no alcohol’, ‘no additives’, ‘no artificial colors’, now ‘without palm oil’ in fact respond to the needs of values of each of us, dictated by religious beliefs or feelings and thoughts. Fundamental human rights protected by the constitutions and relevant treaties. Respecting the freedom of choice of each individual, on how to produce and what to buy.