Food labels provide consumers with relevant information such as nutritional composition, origin, serving suggestion, and precautionary measures, among others.
However, there are also labels that are merely a part of a marketing scheme to confuse consumers.
For example, the use of “free-from” labels like sugar-free and GMO-free, or even claims like “eco-friendly” or “organic” that are often found on the front of packaging tends to influence consumers in their decision-making.
Based on a study “Consumer Attitudes towards ‘Free-From’ Labels” done by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), “free-form” labels generally appear to be confusing and consumers may have the expectation that food with such labels are healthier than those without.
Discriminatory labels against palm oil (e.g. no palm oil, without palm oil, among others) specifically, are misleading as there are no substantial scientific evidence that consuming palm oil is hazardous for health.
No Palm Oil (NPO) labels can be found on food, personal care, and household products-generally any product that requires the use of vegetable oils.
Is palm oil unhealthy as the label implies?
Palm oil has a balanced content of fat (50 per cent saturated, 50 per cent unsaturated).
The more saturated the oil or fat, the more solid the consistency, and on the contrary, the more unsaturated is the oil or fat, the more liquid is the consistency.
Consumers often associate saturated fat as bad for health. However, based on recent research findings by Nutrition Foundation of Italy, Research Director Dr. Franca Marangoni during her presentation at the Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC) 2020, stated that there was no significant evidence to conclude that saturated fat was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart diseases or cardiovascular diseases.
Both saturated and unsaturated fats serve different purposes when it comes to health and food applications. As palm oil has a balanced composition of fat, it is very versatile and can be used for various applications.
What are the implications of NPO labelling?
NPO labels can give rise to negative perception on palm oil among consumers.
In the European Union, many NGOs ride on the narrative that palm oil causes deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Based on a study done in 2018 and shared by the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), there were people in Europe who believed that palm oil comes from the trunk of the oil palm when in actual fact, it comes from the fruit and kernel (seed). This means that they are boycotting an ingredient that they know very little off.
Boycotting would lead to the gradual increase in the land use of other oilseed crops.
Since palm oil is the most productive vegetable oil requiring the least amount of land, replacing it would mean more land acreage would be needed to supply the global oil demand.
This would bring more deforestation, and more carbon emissions. If the issue remains uncurbed, in the long run, it can potentially cripple Malaysia’s palm oil industry in terms of income, livelihood, research and development.
It is best to opt for products with sustainably sourced palm oil, or in fact, any vegetable oil. As consumers, we must approach the consumption of goods without extreme beliefs, and understand underlying issues before making any rash decisions.
Prepared by Areej Taufik
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