Food companies including Nestlé are pressuring palm-oil producers to use food-grade lubricants in their processing equipment to avoid product contamination, according to a report in Reuters.
Nestlé and other European-based users of palm oil are concerned because traces of hydrocarbon-based lubricant keep showing up in palm oil shipped from Malaysia and other Third World producers. The problem, Reuters reports, is the expense involved. Food-grade lubricants are usually made from highly refined mineral oil without toxic additives like lead or zinc; as a result, they can be up to 10 times more expensive than non-food-grade equivalents.
“The lubricant we use sometimes comes into contact with our product,” the head of a Malaysian palm oil trade group told Reuters. “To address this issue, we have to use food grade lubricant, but the available options are very, very expensive.”
Only European producers so far have raised concerns about lubricant contamination. Palm oil has come under fire on other grounds, chiefly that its harvesting results in deforestation, especially in poorly regulated countries.
The European Union is moving to set limits for palm oil contamination. Some oil suppliers are suggesting that the EU is using contamination concerns as a pretense for protecting domestic edible oil producers, but others are taking steps to switch over to food-grade lubricants.