Keep politicians out of the chocolate purity fuss

Aaaagh. Greenie Sue Kedgley has waded in on the chocolate issue. Next bloody thing you know, there will be moves in Parliament to define chocolate in a way that rules out palm oil as a substitute for cocoa butter and there will be demands for all sorts of food labelling requirements.

The European Union spent 25 years doing something like that before allowing the sale of “chocolate” without cocoa butter.

There are environmental issues too.

The threat of politicisation is raised by news that –

A consumer backlash is mounting over Cadbury’s decision to add palm oil to its chocolate, with Auckland Zoo pulling the confectionary giant’s products from its shops and restaurant because of concern over the damage palm oil production does to rainforests.

Users of social networking sites have set up “boycott Cadbury” groups, and plans are under way for a petition urging Parliament to warn consumers about palm oil. And Green MP Sue Kedgley has waded into the debate, urging people to vote with their wallets.

Auckland Zoo conservation officer Peter Fraser says the problem with palm oil is that to produce it, rainforest is being cleared in South East Asia.

That means the endangered orang-utans are losing their habitat and the zoo predicts that if palm oil production continues at its current pace, none of the animals will be left in the wild in 10 years.

The fuss has been triggered by Cadbury’s adding palm oil to its chocolate ( recording it as “vegetable fat”) on the packaging, at the same time as it downsized its 150g and 250g bars about 20 percent.

While critics said adding palm oil and shrinking the bars were cost-cutting moves, the Cadbury website said this was done “for a number of reasons”.

Spokesman Daniel Ellis said consumer feedback showed the vegetable fat improved the chocolate’s texture. He said Cadbury was a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) a body tasked with ensuring responsible and sustainable palm oil crops.

“While we understand the passion some members of the community have about palm oil, we believe that the palm oil we use is sourced in a sustainable manner and we hope that people will take the time to understand that.”

The Cadbury moves are good news for Whittaker’s. Its marketing manager, Philip Poole, says his company has been experiencing unusually high demand since Cadbury’s recipe change.

“Although cocoa butter is more expensive, it’s our pure cocoa products that give our chocolate its very distinctive premium-quality taste.”

But while consumers are expressing their preferences, one way or another, Alf was surprised to see Kedgley enter the fray.

Her posture on obesity, fast foods and the good things of life suggests she avoids all chocolate – Alf recalls her railing against the sales of one kilogram chocolate Easter eggs. “that challenge children to eat the giant egg in less than 15 minutes”.

Ms Kedgley called on the Warehouse to remove these eggs from its shelves. “The Warehouse cannot credibly claim to be socially responsible when it is marketing food in this totally irresponsible way.

“How can we encourage children to eat healthy food when they’re branded a loser for not gobbling up a massive Easter egg in 15 minutes?” asked Ms Kedgley.

“This is the kind of exploitative marketing that is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

“It’s horrifying to think of what will happen to children if they take up the challenge and stuff themselves with this pig’s breakfast of sugar and fat in less than 15 minutes.”

Just think what she’ll get up to if Cadbury’s switch to palm oil becomes a political issue with the potential for environmental, nutritional and food labelling debate.

But that’s what could happen.

Back in the late 1990s –

A passionate debate over the meaning of chocolate has emerged ever since the creation of the European Market and the free movement of goods among EU nations in 1992. Despite their concern for standardization of goods throughout the 15 EU nations, EU policy makers have yet applied that rule to chocolate.

Their effort to solve this issue has been significant, but the problem is complex: 7 of the 15 EU nations permit the use of substitutes in the making of chocolate. The other 8 claim that only chocolate made out of cocoa butter should be called pure chocolate.

The legal framework that relates to Cocoa and Chocolate products is based on a directive that was first introduced by the EEC in 1973. Since then, the European Commission has reviewed this directive more then once and finally presented a proposal for its reform in April 1996. The main aspect of the proposal is that it allows member countries to replace cocoa butter by vegetable fats in chocolate products.

The division between the EU nations is mainly caused by the desire to protect their respective industry interests. However, the proposed directive implies severe economic, social and environmental consequences for developing countries.

About a year later, a triumph for the Brits was proclaimed:

After a 25-year battle, the European Parliament lifted a ban on the sale of British milk chocolate on the continent following years of debate over what chocolate should consist of. The vote opens the way for final approval by the 15 member states at a European Union (EU) ministerial meeting this week.

The parliament passed the proposed new chocolate regulations, which allow products with as much as 5 percent vegetable fats — other than cocoa butter — to be called chocolate. If the measure gets final approval, traditional British chocolate, which has less cocoa and more vegetable fats, will become widely available in the rest of the EU. The British version also is cheaper.

The compromise proposal, which was first approved by EU ministers last October, will call for clear labeling of chocolate. Packages of chocolate containing non-cocoa fats will have to state this on the wrapping, and British milk chocolate will sport the catchy label “Family Milk Chocolate” in the rest of the EU.

As expected, Belgium and the Netherlands voted against the new regulations but were overruled by the majority, including Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, which all allow other vegetable fats in their chocolate products.

Continental chocolate purists have argued that British milk chocolate is an inferior product. Some say that cost, quality and competition are at stake. Others put the fears down to taste and pride.

Across the Atlantic, the Americans require chocolate to contain cocoa butter for it to be sold as milk chocolate.

The chocolate companies have skirted the regulations, however, as is likely to happen here, if we try to regulate the contents of chocolate.

TODAY consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman reported that –

Hershey’s has switched to less expensive ingredients in several of its products. In particular, cocoa butter — the ingredient famous for giving chocolate its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture — has been replaced with vegetable oil.

The removal of cocoa butter violates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of milk chocolate, so subtle changes have appeared on the labels of the Hershey’s products with altered recipes. Products once labeled “milk chocolate” now say “chocolate candy,” “made with chocolate” or “chocolatey.”

Like Cadbury here, the companies don’t trumpet the changed labels.

“A lot of people don’t notice it. The package looks exactly the same,” said Cybele May, who has chronicled the changes in detail on her Candy Blog. “I feel betrayed by Hershey’s. They’re giving me an inferior product and they’re not even telling me …

“I call it mockolate, which is basically a fake chocolate product.”

Hershey’s told TODAY consumers love its products and all its candies are clearly labeled. It still offers real milk chocolate in Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and its classic chocolate bar.

And it put back the milk chocolate in Almond Joy because consumers complained.

So cocoa butter buffs in New Zealand are clearly shown what must be done.

Don’t go whining to the politicians about Cadbury. Show ’ em what you think by flocking to rival products that make chocolate the way it was supposed to be made.

One Response to Keep politicians out of the chocolate purity fuss

  1. All I want to see is clear, readable labelling on products. I also like to know where the ingredients come from too if that’s practical.

    The labelling may be clear, but 6point white text on brown or dark blue isn’t all that readable in a supermarket.

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