Coconut oil ‘poison’ row: Indian government fires back over Harvard professor’s allegations

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Indian agricultural ministry has lashed out with a strongly-worded letter against claims by a Harvard professor who declared coconut oil to be ‘pure poison’. ©iStock
The Indian agricultural ministry has lashed out with a strongly-worded letter against claims by a Harvard professor who declared coconut oil to be ‘pure poison’. ©iStock

Related tags: Coconut oil, India, Harvard, Controversy

The Indian agricultural ministry has lashed out with a strongly-worded letter against claims by a Harvard professor who declared coconut oil to be ‘pure poison’.

India Horticulture Commissioner Dr B.N. Srinivasa Murthy called on Harvard to have the statement retracted, claiming that Prof Karin Michels statements were “controversial”​, “unsubstantiated” ​and “inconsiderate”.

The letter was addressed to Dr Michelle Williams the Dean of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

FoodNavigator-Asia ​has seen the letter, in which Dr Murthy counters Professor Michels’ claims of there being no study showing significant health benefits to coconut oil consumption.

“Mere Googling pulled out [over 19 million] general results and [over 400,000] scholarly articles indicating the benefits of using coconut oil,” ​wrote Dr Murthy in the letter.

“Moreover, there is no evidence that coconut oil consumption is linked to heart disease, inflammatory diseases and rather, contemporary studies have shown that coconut oil is healthy.”

Dr Murthy also listed 10 health benefits of coconut oil based on evidence based scientific studies in his letter in support of his argument.

“[Her] statements are unsubstantiated and inconsiderate,” ​he added.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia, ​Dr Murthy said he had felt the need to write to Harvard “[To] safeguard the Indian coconut farmers” ​as “the comment function under this [Professor Michels’ lecture posted on Youtube]video is disabled.”

He also said that he made the decision to write the letter due to the importance of the coconut and coconut products industry to India and its people.

“The coconut sector plays a significant role in poverty alleviation and employment generation [in India], providing livelihood to over 12 million farm families”​ added Dr Murthy.

Calling for a retraction of the statement, he added: “I hope that [Dr Williams] will take corrective measures by retracting the statement and come out clean by accepting the circumstances that compelled [Dr Michels] for the negative statements.”

Coconut oil is ‘pure poison’?

The lecture by Prof Karin Michels containing the claim that coconut oil is “pure poison”​ and “one of the worst foods you can eat”​ was posted on Youtube earlier this year.

It quickly went viral, having garnered over 1.4 million views so far.

In the German-language talk, she claimed that coconut oil’s high saturated fat levels place a person at high risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, terming it “pure poison”​.

Coconut oil defence elsewhere

Almost immediately after the lecture went viral, the Philippines Coconut Authority (PCA) responded with a statement in defense of coconut oil.

Prof Michels’ statements were vilified as “a ruthless attack that is based on old science and flawed research” ​and “a rehash of the smear campaign orchestrated by US-based entities that represent rival oil and big pharmaceutical interests”​.

 The Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) decried Prof Michels’“sensationalist attack”​ as being based on “erroneous information and false assumptions”​.

“This irresponsible statement threatens the livelihood of millions of poor coconut farmers. Dr. Michels should apologize and retract her statement,” ​said APCC via a statement.

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