The latest parliamentary question on palm oil

In the session of the Chamber of 26 of this month the question was announced with a request for a written answer no. C4-13332, presented by Mirko Busto (M5S) and co-signed by eleven other deputies of the same parliamentary group.

The question is addressed to the Minister of Health, delegated to answer, and relates, in the context of food safety and health risk, to palm oil.

This is the forty-eighth of the acts of guidance and control exercised since the beginning of this legislature on the controversial food.

In the introduction, the questioner recalls the origin of this vegetable oil and the wide use by the food industry due to its versatility.

So Mirko Busto draws attention to the risks of palm oil for human health, as indicated by a growing number of scientific studies, expressly citing:

the one conducted by the WHO (World Health Organization) "Aimed at specifying how the main fatty acids (such as saturated fatty acids, myristic acid and palmitic acid) lead to an increase in the level of cholesterol in the blood, favoring cardiovascular diseases";

a study by the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) of Washington, one not profit education and advocacy organization that focuses on improving the safety and nutritional, on the increase in cardiovascular risk factors since saturated fatty palmitic acid is extremely harmful for coronary heart disease;

an AHA study (American Heart Association, Dallas-based, non-profit organization that works to reduce deaths from heart problems and strokes) that recommends limiting the use of palm oil for people who need to reduce their cholesterol level ;

and, finally, a study conducted by Francesco Giorgino, director of the endocrinology department of the University of Bari, in collaboration with the universities of Pisa and Padua. Francesco Giorgino observes: “The beta cells of the pancreas produce insulin, an essential hormone for transforming complex sugars into glucose necessary to give energy to the whole organism. An excess of fat causes an increase in the P66SHC protein, the same protein that damages the beta cells of the pancreas to the point of causing cell death (apoptosis [1]). The decrease in insulin-producing cells causes an increase in blood sugar and, consequently, the onset of dietary diabetes ". Thus our scholar continues and concludes: “The main cause is palmitic acid or palmitate present in [considerable] quantities in palm oil. One way to prevent diabetes is, therefore, to limit the consumption of fats, especially palm oil, through a healthy diet and as close as possible to the Mediterranean diet [2] rich in fruit, vegetables and good fatty acids such as those extra virgin olive oil ".

In the continuation of the premise Mirko Busto warns that "the lower age groups would be more exposed to the consumption of palm oil, present in most of the consumer products for children and adolescents", citing the opinion of the Higher Institute of Health of 19 February 2016 on the consumption of saturated fatty acids in children between 3 and 10 years, such as to be above the recommended health limits.

Another authoritative scientific source cited by the author is the opinion of 3 May 2016 expressed by EFSA (theEuropean Food Safety Authority) in the Scientific Report on "Process contaminants in vegetable oils and foods" which highlights "the problematic nature of three substances present in palm oil, ester glycides of fatty acids (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD), and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD) and their esters, resulting from refining at high temperatures (about 200o C) used for the production of palm oil ".

It seems indicative, underlines Mirko Busto, that Nestlé itself [3] acknowledged that already in 2007 the German Food Safety Authority had highlighted the need to reduce the levels of carcinogenic contaminants in foods and follow-on formulas for infants.

As for the commercial profile, referred to in the question, a very significant data is highlighted: Italy imports 77.000 tons of palm oil for food use, as emerges from the Food Balance Sheet of the FAO of 2011, already showing an increase five years ago compared to previous years [4].

Thus concludes the premise of the parliamentarian of the 5 Star Movement: “The possible belonging of palm oil to the category of  novelfood, novel foods or novel food ingredients, governed by Regulation (EC) no. 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 1997 on new products and new food ingredients not consumed to a significant extent within the European Union before 15 May 1997, the date of entry into force of the regulation itself and on which provides for the need to ascertain its safety as per regulation, even if the food and / or food ingredients were already on the market outside the European Union before that date through EFSA authorization and after evaluation by a Member State ".

In conclusion, three questions were put to the representative of the Government.

1. According to which assessments and related authorizations the Ministry of Health allows the marketing of this substance and the products containing it;

2. If the alarm contained in the recent EFSA assessment is not considered sufficient indication to take steps to take steps for an immediate suspension of the sanitary authorization of palm oil;

3. What initiatives does the Government intend to take in identifying and managing risk.

Bruno Nobile

[1] Entry deriving from the Greek apoptòsis: fall, decline, regression and recurring in the biological field. It indicates the natural form of cell death that occurs during the development or regression of a tissue.

[2] On November 16, 2010, the Mediterranean Diet was included by UNESCO in the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

[3] The Swiss Nestlé a multinational in the food sector. It produces and distributes a wide range of products: from mineral water to baby food, from frozen to dairy products. It owns an overwhelming number of brands: mineral water and other beverages, health food for babies and athletes, biscuits, coffee, cereals, frozen food, pet food, chocolate, sweets, ice cream, fresh and the kitchen.

[4] Even more alarmed was Coldiretti who, in May of this year, denounced: "Imports of palm oil in Italy increase by 19 percent for a record quantity that even exceeded 1,7 billion kilos in 2014, a negative record never achieved before ". The same organization "raises the alarm on the invasion of a product under accusation from a nutritional and environmental point of view, right in the homeland of extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet".

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