Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, has hit back at claims that palm oil used in their hazelnut and chocolate spreads could cause cancer, The Independent reported.
In May, the European Food Standards Authority warned that the contaminants found in the oil’s edible form are carcinogenic. It warned that even moderate consumption of the substances represented a risk to children and said that, due to a lack of definitive data, no level could be considered safe.
Several retailers in Italy, including the country’s biggest supermarket chain, Coop, have boycotted the spread as a precaution.
In response, Ferrero has launched an advertising campaign in an attempt to reassure customers that its products are safe.
Ferrero insists that the decision to keep palm oil in Nutella, despite safety fears, is about quality, not cost. The substance is used to give the spread its smooth texture which it says can’t be achieved by using other oils. “Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters.
Substitute oils, derived for example from sunflowers or rapeseed, could be used but would increase the cost of making the product by as much as $22m (£18m), a calculation by Reuters found. Ferrero has not confirmed the figures. The company was not immediately available for comment.
The cancer fears centre on a compounds known as glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), which are produced in palm oil when it is heated above 200 degrees celsius, as it is in the processing of for many foods.
It is not the first time that palm oil has caused controversy. In November Amnesty International raised concerns that global firms including Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever have been using palm oil produced by children as young as eight, working in hazardous conditions on Indonesian plantations.
Children were carrying sacks of palm fruit weighing up to 25kg, for Singapore-based company Wilmar, Amnesty found.
Palm oil has long been linked to environmental degradation, including mass deforestation causing the loss of critical habitats for endangered species such as orangutans. Ferrero says all of the oil it uses comes from sustainable sources as certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a body set up by major producers and purchasers to set standards and self-regulate the industry.