Il Fatto Alimentare, AltroConsumo and Coldiretti are misleading Italian consumers and harming food security

Italy has become a new frontier for the anti-palm oil campaign in Europe. The opponents of palm oil are now using their familiar tactics to frighten Italian consumers about palm oil consumption. Their aim is still the same: to limit palm oil’s access to the market, to the advantage of protectionist domestic oilseed crops.

At a time where discussion on food security and nutrition are predominant, including at the World Expo currently taking place in Milan, the Malaysian Palm Oil community is once again called to defend palm oil – the most efficient and sustainable oilseed crop in the world – from unjustified new threats.

The anti-palm oil campaign in Italy is led by the food campaigning group, Il Fatto Alimentare, the food promotion organization, Great Italian Food (GIFT), and Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment political party, Movimento 5 Stelle. With an online petition, first, and then a resolution in the Italian Parliament, they have been fomenting scare stories and circulating untruths, in order to whip up anti-palm oil sentiment. It is irresponsible and unethical lobbying.

Their actions have been accompanied by a strong campaign in the media, supported by Green groups, including Greenpeace, AltroConsumo (a consumer association), and Coldiretti, a farmer’s association. The campaign claims to be about environment, or health: but the truth is more simple. This is about protectionism.

Protectionistm is why Ermete Realacci MP and some of his colleagues from the Democratic Party – the party of Prime Minister Renzi – have submitted a resolution to ban non-certified palm oil from the European marketplace. This proposal undermines the trade commitments of Italy and the EU to Malaysia, as well as representing illegal discrimination against palm oil.

Instead of telling consumers the truth, the Italian campaigners manipulate scientific evidence in their own interest. As in the case of the study conducted by Italian researcher Dr Elena Fattore on palm oil and cardiovascular disease, where the food campaigning group, Il Fatto Alimentare, had completely changed the original findings of her study. Dr Fattore had replied with a severe letter opposing the manipulation. It is disgraceful that this NGO would twist the words of respected scientists, and tell such untruths to the public. It is clear that they cannot be trusted.

The Italian public deserve better than these untruths: they deserve the facts. Palm oil is a healthy, natural GMO-free oil which does not contain dangerous trans fats. The real reason why the Italian food industry has increasingly turned to palm oil was to replace partially hydrogenated oils (including sunflower, and rapeseed) that create trans fats. The negative effects on health of trans fats are renowned – the American Food & Drug Agency (FDA) is about to announce an almost total ban of trans fats in food. The attempts to limit palm oil use, proposed by Il Fatto Alimentare, Altro Consumo and Coldiretti, could harm the health profile of many products across Italy if it leads to more trans fats being consumed.

As demonstrated by many scientists and experts in Europe, palm oil is safe and should not be feared. A recent study from the ‘Mario Negri’ Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan explained this point: namely that palm oil does not increase levels of good or bad cholesterol,but rather has a neutral impact on cardiovascular health similar to olive oil.

But the health arguments are not the only ones that are false. A few weeks ago, Chiara Ghigliardi MP from Beppe Grillo’s party Movimento 5 Stelle submitted a motion to ban palm oil from public institutions and school canteens. Wild accusations of deforestation were mentioned. These accusations, which were rejected by the parliamentary assembly, are manifestly wrong.

Palm oil is the most land-efficient oil crop in the world. When compared to other vegetable oils, palm oil consumes less energy in production, uses fewer fertilizers, and produces more oil per hectare. The efforts to remove palm oil from the Italian market will lead to more land being used for other oilseed crops and prices rising for Italian consumers.

The truth is that neither Il Fatto Alimentare nor Altro Consumo and Coldiretti are sincerely interested in consumers. They only care about protecting their own interests, and their own prejudices.

Malaysia has a strong record in environment protection and species preservation. Those who suggest otherwise are wrong. Malaysia has committed internationally to protect 50 per cent of its land under forest cover, and is currently at 62 per cent – almost double than Italy. A unique example of how socio-economic development can be achieved, alongside strict rules on environment protection. This environmental record has been celebrated by the United Nations and the World Bank, among others. Clear evidence, instead of the insinuations from Il Fatto Alimentare.

Finally, the campaigners’ attitude is not only dishonourable, for the lack of scientific evidence and non-sense of their arguments, but also costly for the thousands of small farmers and communities who have seen their lives improved from cultivating oil palm. 40 per cent of palm oil from Malaysia is produced by small farmers, who depend on the crop for their livelihoods, and to continue their path away from poverty, to prosperity. These are the victims of the campaign by MP Realacci.

The anti-palm oil campaign in Italy is based on falsehoods, and is harming poor farmers in the developing world. For these reasons it should be firmly condemned by the Italian Government. This campaign also hurts Italy’s interests, and the many reforms that Prime Minister Renzi is undertaking to increase jobs and growth in his country. According to a recent study, palm oil contribution to Italy’s economy is more than substantial: €1.06 billion to the GDP, €29 million in tax revenues and 14,600 jobs.

On our side, we will continue to fight for the truth, and defend the Malaysian palm oil community. The facts are on our side – on health, on environment, and on economics. The Italian Government needs to stand on the side of the facts, and not of the fictions of MP Realacci and her friends.