Authors Dr Guy-André Pelouze

The Anti-Palm Oil Campaign with No Basis in Science

In November 2012, palm oil definitively entered the French media landscape during parliamentary discussions on what was at the time christened as the so-called ‘Nutella Amendment’ or ‘Nutella Tax’. A prodigious number of articles were published at that time. And, stemming from its omnipresence in the media, palm oil then became a major topic of public debate.

What fertile ground for a smear campaign! Palm oil was accused of everything – and especially of being bad for health – and in the news media, this health issue became a national concern.

Yet, science does not provide any reason for these fears. For palm oil as for other subjects, the failure to promote the correct information meant that public opinion was mainly distinguished by its tendency to exaggerate. The advertising posters that we have seen recently in France about palm oil being linked to the Loch Ness monster or the Titanic are ultimately not very far from the truth of the scare campaign.

We have repeatedly tried to show that there was no real reason for such media activity: in November 2013 initially, and then in June 2014, we held two conferences in Paris and Brussels with renowned experts. Together, we clarified the state of the scientific evidence, and the many studies over the years have proved, unmistakably, that saturated fats in general and especially palm oil are undoubtedly not hazardous to health.

Today, just as it was possible to say in the past, palm oil is not a concern from a scientific point of view. It is clear that public opinion is on the wrong track.

However, we were not wrong. Eighteen months after the peak of interest, the debate is folding in on itself.

Since the first major wars over ideological health issues, people quickly realised that it didn’t have any basis in science. More serious topics such as the enduring use of trans fats or the worrying levels of sugar consumption could surface.

After only a few months the rationale of the anti-palm oil campaign fell apart. A lot of noise for nothing.

By Dr Guy André Pelouze

Dr Guy-André Pelouze is a French cardio-thoracic surgeon, and a founder of the French think-tank and research group Institut de Recherche Clinique (Institute of Clinical Research). Dr Pelouze is a widely quoted writer and commentator on health and nutrition in France, and is the founder of the Food Facts Index, an independent website focusing on food-related issues in both French and English.