Palm oil: the reasons for the controversy

At a time when all the debates around climate change are coming together, a controversy is shaking the public arena over the use of palm oil in French households.

Some scientific studies validate the idea that palm oil is the alternative to fats resulting from partial hydrogenation. When on the other side, IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states that 17% pollution greenhouse gases would come from the palm oil cultivation process.

Why was palm oil less controversial before the 2000s?

before the years 2000, palm oil did not benefit from any media visibility like that of recent years. From 2001, palm oil officially enters the European and French market. However, it still remains of the order of parallel products ” dietetic ” Where ” organic because considered a “good fat” from plants. It is also sold in specialized shops and at very affordable prices due to the quantity produced per hectare cultivated. It quickly replaces partially hydrogenated products, discredited since the 80s.

Why is palm oil very quickly adopted in France?

Fats obtained from partial hydrogenations have high levels of trans fatty acids. For more economy, they were recommended in households in France and in the food industry. However, these fats, beyond 2% of energy intake recommended had potentially harmful effects and therefore risk of cancer andstroke. When the trans fatty acid content is high in a diet, it also increases bad cholesterol (LDL : low density lipoproteins) and reduces good cholesterol (HDL : high density lipoproteins). which is “the complete opposite of Palm oil “, say the scientific studies of yesteryear.

Scientists and nutritionists are asking government authorities to put pressure on manufacturers: we must quickly think of an alternative that will radically reduce the fats that come from partial hydrogenation. Palm oil which was already in the viewfinder industrialists agrifoods as a substitute for hydrogenated fats, is quickly becoming very popular with them. But it’s not just manufacturers. Palm oil is requested by millions of households in France and everywhere else. Moreover, according to data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2011-12, palm oil represents 32.7% of the world supply of vegetable oils.

Why is palm oil not a hydrogenated fat?

Palm oil has the particularity, according to the experts of the Economic Institute of Molinari, to be “solid or semi-solid at room temperature”. Which means it doesn’t need to be combined with hydrogen to be solid. Conversely, rapeseed and soy need to be hydrogenated to be solid. And it is this process of hydrogenation that results in the formation of artificial trans fatty acids. When this trans fatty acid exceeds 2% of energy intake, it becomes dangerous for consumption, in particular because it can cause heart disease. Clearly, when an oil does not contain hydrogenated fat, it would be recommended for consumption.

How does the controversy arise if “palm oil has good qualities”?

In France, consumer associations and other environmental associations (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace France, France Nature Environnement, FNE Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, FNE 13 and the Paca Bird Protection League ), first focus on the process of growing palm oil in the countries where it is extracted. Then, they criticize the poor quality of oil of palm because of its AGS (Saturated Fatty Acid) content “responsible for the increase in bad cholesterol levels (LDL: low density lipoproteins)”.

For years, palm oil has become the flagship product of the food industry for its nutritional qualities and generosity:

  • Rich in saturated fats therefore solids
  • Steady
  • Less susceptible to oxidation
  • Not susceptible to rancidity
  • therefore durable over time. Even at room temperature
  • Almost zero carbohydrate intake, therefore less risk of cancer, obesity and overweight, tooth decay, blood triglycerides.

These qualities are at the origin of its strong global culture.

In which category do we classify palm oil?

Palm oil is categorized as fatty acids represented by lipids which means “fat”. Lipids contain four types of fatty acids. The first is called PUFA (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids), the second AGMI (Monounsaturated Fatty Acid), the third AGS (Saturated Fatty Acids) and the last AGT (Trans Fatty Acid). Palm oil falls into the category of AGS (Saturated Fatty Acid) which would also be a cause of the increase in the level of bad cholesterol (LDL: Low density lipoproteins).

The process of palm oil cultivation: main cause of controversy?

Only two countries, notably malaysia and Indonesia dominate the global production market with 85% output. In addition to these two states, there are a few dozen countries in tropical Africa. And, to ensure all this production, a complete raid of a large forest basin is needed. But in these forests, lives a fauna and develops a rich flora for the planet. Every day, hundreds of hectares of forest go up in smoke to make way for palm oil monoculture. This excessive deforestation to the detriment of an agriculture often responsible for health problems, annoys consumer associations, as well as environmental associations. These associations accuse the farmers:

  1. To destroy biodiversity,
  2. to pollute the environment,
  3. To hunt animals from their primary habitats to produce an oil often responsible for carcinogenic problems.

Buyers in the sights of associations

Associations accuse companies and agri-food industries that use palm oil of also contributing to deforestation and the destruction of fauna and flora. This is particularly the example of the mastodon Nestlé, accused by the association Greenpeace. It states that Nestlé is guilty of the mass death of Orangutans due to deforestation in indonesia to produce the palm oil used in its products. This led the Nestlé company to turn to a healthier culture of palm oil. However, it should also be noted that the Nestlé group was not the only company to suffer the invectives of environmental associations. For many of these companies, several have paid the cost of discredit and reputation. They have therefore decided to move towards a more responsible cultivation of palm oil.

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Palm oil: the reasons for the controversy