Ninemsn: Danielle Ryan: November 22 2010
A manager with one of Australia’s most famous food companies predicts the food industry will phase out palm oil, as the building industry did asbestos.
Palm oil is a cheap ingredient that is high in saturated fat and is often disguised as “vegetable oil” in food products such as snack foods, frozen foods and spreads. Some of the largest family brands use the oil, including Kraft Peanut Butter, Nutella and some Smith’s chips.
Dick Smith Foods business manager Paul Grundy said his company recently asked its manufacturer, Sanitarium, to remove the product from its spreads after concerns from customers.
“Asbestos was used in building materials 50 years ago and today it is not, because they [the manufacturers] recognised the hazards with it,” he said.
“The same happens in food products: ingredients change over time, based upon more a more enlightened view of the world.”
Palm oil has become a controversial ingredient in foods and other products due to its high fat content as well as the harmful environmental impact of palm oil plantations.
National Heart Foundation’s national director of healthy weight, Susan Anderson, said the oil has 55 percent saturated fat, eight percent polyunsaturated and 37 percent monounsaturated.
“While it contains no trans fat, it contains too much saturated fat and not enough unsaturated fat to be recommended by the Heart Foundation,” Ms Anderson said.
Environmentalists also campaign against palm oil plantations, which are responsible for deforestation in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
A ninemsn investigation of peanut butter on Coles and Woolworths shelves found that out of the five biggest producers, only Dick Smith and Sanitarium had voluntarily removed palm oil from their spreads this year.
Sanitarium said it had not included palm oil in its products since September, but it could be some months before all palm-based spreads have left the shelves.
Woolworths, Kraft and Coles said they will continue to use palm oil, but all said they will move towards sustainable palm oil options.
A spokesperson for Ferroro, which uses palm oil in its popular spread Nutella, said the company switched to more environmentally friendly sources last year and intended to increase the quota of certified oil it uses.
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil accounts for about 8 percent of current global production.
John Corbett, 71, who recently recovered from a triple bypass surgery, said his doctor warned him to stay clear of palm oil substances.
“Now I look more closely at the labels in supermarkets and if the label just says ‘vegetable oil’, I am a bit weary,” he said.
Mr Corbett said he is frustrated that food companies could disguise the use of palm oil in their products.
“I think it’s really appalling, because it should not be hard for them to say what exactly is in a product and yet it could have deleterious effects for some consumers,” he said.