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Does Nutella cause cancer? Maker fights back on palm oil concerns

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/01/2017 Mary Bowerman

Nutella pots on display in a creperie in Rome. © Alberto Pellaschiar, ASSOCIATED PRESS Nutella pots on display in a creperie in Rome.

The maker of Nutella is fighting back against claims that a key ingredient in the hazelnut and chocolate spread may cause cancer. 

Italian food giant Ferrero recently launched an advertising campaign in Italy that assures consumers that palm oil used in Nutella is safe to eat, Reuters reported. 

"Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward," Ferrero's purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters.

The company’s campaign in support of palm oil, comes amid growing pressure from European officials to list the edible oil as potentially carcinogenic.

In May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned that contaminants in palm oil raise potential health concerns across the board. The EFSA panel found that the major cancer concern is over glycidyl fatty acid esters or GE, which form during food processing, or when palm oil is refined at temperatures over 393 Fahrenheit.

The research shows that GE poses a cancer risk, Helle Knutsen, Chair of EFSA’s expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, said in a May statement.

“There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic. Therefore the CONTAM Panel did not set a safe level for GE,” Knutsen said.

In response to the potential cancer-causing effects of the oil, several retailers in Italy, including the country’s largest supermarket, Coop, removed the oil from their products, Reuters reported. 

According to Reuters, Ferrero may be hesitant to phase out palm oil, in part because it’s the cheapest vegetable oil on the market. 

The EFSA’s May report did not advise consumers to stop eating products with palm oil, and concluded more research was needed to assess the risk. 

Likewise, the World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization have acknowledged the worrisome prospects of GE, but haven’t advised people to stop eating products with the oil.

Follow Mary Bowerman on Twitter: @MaryBowerman 

   

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