WHO Draws Parallel Between Palm Oil and Big Tobacco

When it comes to lobbying
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2019 6:55 PM CST
Demonstrators display placards in protest of European Union plans to ban palm oil biofuels.   (Bazuki Muhammad/AP Images for National Association of Smallholders Malaysia)

(Newser) – What does the $60 billion palm oil industry have in common with Big Tobacco? Lobbying tactics, says the World Health organization, namely attempts to influence research into the health effects of palm oil, Reuters reports. And as more countries move to ban trans fats, which make liquid oils solid at room temperature, palm oil is standing out “as an easy choice for ultra-processed foods.” According to the WHO study, labeling for palm oil in foods is often inconsistent (there are some 200 alternative names for the substance), and the healthfulness of the oil is up for debate. Also, the agency found that several studies purporting the health benefits of palm oil were authored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.

“The relationship between the palm oil and processed food industries, and the tactics they employ, resembles practices adopted by the tobacco and alcohol industries. However, the palm oil industry receives comparatively little scrutiny,” WHO says. Some studies link palm oil consumption to heart disease and other health problems. In addition, the push to plant more palm plantations increases the prevalence of slash-and-burn farming in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, per the BBC, and other environmental impacts. Meanwhile, Malaysia has launched a “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign, the Malay Mail reports, that will focus on “socio-economic importance, health, nutrition, and food and non-food applications” and targeting our young impressionable people from primary school to tertiary levels through the setting up of palm oil ambassador clubs.” (Read more palm oil stories.)

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