The petition, published on Change.org, says it opposes the use of palm oil on ethical, environmental and health grounds, and invites companies to reformulate using other non-hydrogenated vegetable oils or butter.
Il Fatto Alimentare calls for palm oil to be eliminated from school foods and hospital canteens, as well as from foods in vending machines in public buildings, and asks supermarkets to exclude palm oil from their own-brand products.
“We ask the agri-food industries to commit to reformulate products without the use of palm oil,” it said.
Palm oil has been associated with widespread deforestation in Southeast Asia and destruction of habitats, and it has also been criticised for its high saturated fat content. It is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil, and food manufacturers find it an attractive option because of its stability at high temperatures, long shelf life and low cost.
Responding to the petition, European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) programme manager Margot Logman told FoodNavigator that the palm oil tree is the most efficient oil crop in terms of land use and, as long as the oil is certified as sustainable, it “presents huge advantages from a sustainability perspective”.
“It’s important to note that there are no recommendations from European health authorities not to use palm oil in food products and nor are there any laws to reduce palm oil use,” she said.
She added that many consumer concerns about palm oil tended to emerge after governments had proposed measures to restrict or tax palm oil use, sometimes with “little reference to the available factual information”.
“The palm oil debate is much related to governments raising proposals to manage either dietary or sustainability issues, and choosing palm oil to do so,” she said, referring to Belgian senate proposals and the French ‘Nutella tax’. “…The proposals that have come up were amended to remove the focus on single fats or oils, resulting in a more balanced look at fat intake as part of a whole diet.”
From December 13, palm oil will need to be identified across Europe in ingredient lists under the new Food Information for Consumers (FIC) regulation. Until now, manufacturers have had the option of listing it as ‘vegetable oil’.