I remember playing Snakes and Ladders in my childhood. An ancient Indian board game regarded today as a worldwide classic, it is played between two or more players on a gameboard having numbered, gridded squares. A number of "ladders" and "snakes" are pictured on the board, each connecting two specific board squares. The object of the game is to navigate one's game piece, according to dice rolls, from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square), helped or hindered by ladders and snakes respectively. What I dreaded most was landing on the mouth of the big snake which frequently meant that you’d end up at or near where you started!
In many ways, the actions of the French Senate against palm oil were similar to that of the big snake in the board game. The objective of the “Nutella Tax” introduced by French Senator Yve Daudigny in proposing to impose a 300 percent hike on taxes for all food products manufactured in France using palm oil was to ultimately drive palm oil down to square one, despite the euphemistic justifications tendered by Daudigny for the tax hike. Senator Daudigny went into an elaborate song and dance routine, alleging that palm oil was rich in saturated fats and consequently bad for heart health and that palm oil was responsible for massive deforestation in SE Asia.
If Senator Daudigny is truly concerned with the consumption of saturated fats, he should explain why butter and cheese which are even higher in saturated fats should be exempt from his proposed bill. Further, unlike butter and cheese, tons of scientific studies have shown that palm oil is, in fact heart friendly as the saturated fatty acids in the sn-1 and -3 position (typically found in palm oil) has very different biological consequences than animal fats such as butter and milk fats as the saturated fats are primarily found in the sn-2 position! (Vide: Donald J. McNamara, PhD: “Palm Oil and Heart Health: A case of Manipulated Perception and Misuse of Science” 240S Vol 29 No. 3(s) Journal of the American College of Nutrition)
Palm oil is also the richest source of the heart friendly anti-oxidant tocotrienol, a superior form of Vitamin E as well as other heart friendly phyto-nutrients such as Co Enzyme Q10, betacarotenes and other polyphenols.
Also, the oft repeated allegation that in SE Asia alone, the equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour for palm oil plantations, has been exposed as a significant distortion of facts by the FAO’s recent "State of the Forests 2011" report. The report observed that whilst rates of deforestation between 1990-2000 were high at a time of significant development in SE Asia, the trend had reversed dramatically between 2000-2010. Deforestation rates during this latter period "more than halved, making the claims of rampant expansion entirely false!" This allegation flies too in the face of facts, for Malaysia which had erstwhile been the world's largest producer of palm oil has managed to retain 59.5 percent forest cover despite intensive cultivation of palm oil for more than a hundred years! (CIA World Factbook 2011)
Fortunately, Senator Duadigny’s Bill raised such a firestorm of public indignation amongst French consumers that the Public Affairs Commission of France’s National Assembly recommended that the Bill be rejected!
In conclusion, it cannot be overstated that the boardgame has it’s roots in morality lessons, where a player's progression up the board represented a life journey complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes). Rather than embrace an unjust cause rooted in protectionism, just imagine the froideur if the Senate had rightly viewed palm oil as a rising tide that could lift all boats and encourage its edible oil industries to invest in palm oil plantations in the developing world and perhaps, blend the wonder oil with the EU’s own edible oils. THE END