This is one of the many consequences of the war in Ukraine. Sunflower oil, the most widely used oil in France, is running out. Ukraine, which supplied 50% of world trade in sunflower oil, can no longer export it due to the war that has led to a blockage of its ports. A situation that should last since the next harvest will be very disturbed.
In France, this oil is becoming scarce due to a “runaway effect”, while consumers and restaurateurs are building up inventories. The state has therefore just authorized the manufacturers of chips, margarine and sauces to replace sunflower oil, without changing the packaging, due to delivery difficulties. The food industry explains that it cannot do that right away.
Two months vague
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, there may be a thousand products in fried or breaded products, but also in preserves and in products where oil is used as an additive. Manufacturers therefore have six months to completely change their packaging, and two months to indicate that their recipe has changed.
However, they will have to apply for a waiver from the Fraud Prevention Department (DGCCRF), which records all changes on its website. However, if allergenic products are used, or if the packaging contains claims that are no longer true, such as “100% organic” or “palm oil free”, the indication of a prescription change must be immediate.
Such derogations were already allowed in 2020, at the height of the health crisis. “The situation is cyclical. But for two months, the consumer is still in the dark and may need to do some shopping on the DGCCRF site.summarizes Camille Dorioz, campaign manager of the NGO Foodwatch, who took part in the discussions between the state and the industrialists.
Preferred rapeseed oil
What will the French eat instead of sunflower oil? “According to our information, manufacturers will replace sunflower oil with rapeseed, palm or soybean oil”explains Camille Dorioz. “There does not appear to be any immediate health risk to consumers as long as they consume the oil in a balanced way”, she still takes care to specify. The use of peanut oil, which can be an allergen, must therefore be explicitly indicated.
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In addition, manufacturers seem to be moving more towards canola oil, with properties close to those of sunflower. France is one of the main producers. Rapeseed has long had a bad reputation in France, due to certain studies published in the 1960s that pointed to heart risks linked to an acid in the oil. Since then, new canola varieties have been bred with reduced levels of this acid. Rapeseed oil is even known for its high Omega 3 content, in balanced consumption is recommended by AFSSA (French Agency for Food Safety, the former ANSES).
“It seems that pressure from associations has discouraged those who would have wanted to lean towards palm oil en masse”, notes Camille Dorioz. Inexpensive and easily accessible to manufacturers, this oil is used to give texture to highly processed foods, replacing butter as fat. French consumers consumed it for a very long time unknowingly, until it was made mandatory in 2014. % for rapeseed or sunflower oil).
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Food repellent for many consumers, palm oil production causes very serious environmental damage in Indonesia or Malaysia, where it is mass produced. Forests have been razed to create an intensive monoculture, which tends to disrupt the environment and allow the spread of certain insects or bacteria that are potentially dangerous to humans. Deforestation also tends to amplify global warming.
The increased use of palm oil, as a replacement for sunflower oil, could therefore have disastrous ecological consequences. The production of soybeans, whose oil can also be used, is also disputed from an ecological point of view. It is mainly produced in the Americas, on deforested lands, especially in the Amazon.
The scarcity of sunflower oil is also having an economic impact, while inflation is hitting hard food products, whose prices have risen 4.1% in a year, according to UFC-Que Choisir. The price of oil has risen significantly since the start of the war in Ukraine. According to the index published by the United Nations, the global oil price has risen by 23.2% in one month, reaching a new record.
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In the European Union, the import price of sunflower oil has increased by 220% since March 2020, data from INSEE shows. Due to domino effect, all vegetable oils have increased. An increased phenomenon “mainly due to the volatile and high values for crude oil”, used for transportation, the United Nations notes. A situation that could continue, because of the continuation of the war in Ukraine. “The scarcity situation we are experiencing has to do with last year’s sunflower crop. It is an illusion to think there will be one this year. We are moving towards a lasting change in the recipes used by manufacturers.”notes Camille Dorioz.