By Femi Kusa
Can Blue Band Margarine cause heart and blood vessel damage, heart attack and stroke?
Consumer Protection Council (CPC) is expected to answer this question after it concludes investigation into the claims of a social media video circulating with fury in the country.
In the video, what is said to be a cut of Blue Band Margarine, produced by UNILEVER Nigeria Plc, is placed in glassware, and hot or boiling water is the poured over it.
The substance in the glassware is indifferent to the heat all around it. That means it does not melt, and this is taken to mean that, in the human body, it would behave as it does in the glassware, smearing and blocking blood vessels, damaging them, damaging the heart, causing heart disease and attacks, and even stroke.
UNILEVER has issued a public statement in defence of Blue Band Margarine, saying constituents of this product in no way endanger health or life.
Brickbats of this nature against any brand of margarine are not new in many parts of the world. Many assailed products come out of this war stronger in the market, the consumers get better informed, and either remain loyal to their brands or trust their heels.
I have followed the BUTTER and MARGARINE debates since the 1970s. I was a margarine lover before my exposure to this battle for the dining table.
Frightened, I switched over to butter and cheese, but have bailed out of their boats, too.
Butter and Margarine
Please pay attention to the following. Most modern foods are poison. Governments in country after country know this, but there is very little they can do about it. For many jobs and huge tax incomes are tied to the industries which produce and market these killer foods and drinks. Once in a while, paid researchers claim they have conducted stringent investigations into these foods and drinks, and have found them not inimical to health. An independent study months or years after may report the contrary. In the battle for supremacy between butter and margarine, it is common to find studies which uphold the virtues of one and denounce those of the others. Even within the butter industry, we often encounter studies which warn us not to consume butter made from the fat of the milk of corn fed cows, and suggest for us that butter from grass fed cows is better.
Butter is made from the fat of cow and goat milk. Its consumption is as old as Western civilization. Even the Christian Bible reports that father Abraham and his wife Sarah, offered three Angels who visited them a meal which included a yellow cream spread, by the third century.
Butter eating had become so popular in cold and temperate countries that the church banned it consumption during the season of Lent, and rich people who did not wish to comply paid the church heavy tithes to please their palate. So huge have these tithes become that the cathedral Tour de Beurre or Butter Tower was built from this income. We may be familiar with IRISH BUTTER.
Butter as so critical to the Irish economy that in a place called Cork, a Butter exchange was set up to help regulate butter trade.
By the nineteenth century, butter consumption had become so popular in France that Emperor Napoleon wished to make it affordable for members of the Armed forces and the poor. He offered a reward to anyone who could create a cheaper, alternative to butter. In 1869, A french Chemist named Hippdyte mege – Mouries offered a substance he called Oleomargarine made from beef fat, he intended it to be less easily perishable than butter, and to be cheaper. In 1869, Mouries patented his production process but failed in successfully commercialised the invention. He sold the patent to Dutch company. JURGENS a member of the UNILEVER group.
With margarine becoming more popular, its transformation from the original French content began with beef fat as a basic or starter ingredient. In 1871, margarine was made in New York from vegetable oils and animal fat and even cotton seed oil. This is important for health seekers. Overconsumption of vegetable oils in relation to Omega 3 fatly acids has been implicated in many, if not all, of today’s degenerative diseases preceded or accompanied by inflammation and pain. Cotton seed oil, especially, has been implicated in declining sperm count and infertility, among many other health hazards.
It was as though butter manufactures of that time had a premometone of what health troubles margarines had in store for the future. By the 19th century, about 37 companies were producing margarine in the United States threatening the butter industry. The butter industry asked the government for protection. The government obliged, paving the way for the 1886 Margarine Act. The law imposed punitive fines on the margarine industry.
Soon, animal fats became scarce and expensive. Meanwhile, new production techniques have made it possible for vegetable oils to be hydrogenated and hardened at room temperature.
And, not before long, margarine began to appear as a combination of animal fats, hardened and unhardened vegetable oil.
Then came the depression of the 1930s in Europe. The rationing of World War 11 reduced availability of animal fats and butter. And, by 1945, it was difficult to find original margarine in the market.
New laws and an unfriendly raw materials market led manufacturer to go exclusively for vegetable oil and fats by 1950.
This new era was not without it challenge. Butter made from the fat of cow’s milk was yellow in colour. Margarine made from hydrogenated vegetable oil and fats was whitish. It is like the egg of free range chicken and the egg of poultry chicken. The yolk of the free range chicken is yellow and the egg of the poultry chicken is not so yellow. To make this yolk yellow, colourings are added to the feed of the poultry chicken. Colouring are dyes, and some dyes cause cancer. As for the problem of colouring in margarine made from hydrogenated vegetable oils and fats, colourings were added to make them yellowish and to improve sales thereby. Wisconsin dairy farmers lead a campaign against margarine producers.
Laws followed which prohibited this practice. But margarine producers would not give up. They sold their products as regulated by law, alright, but accompanied them with packs of yellow colouring which the consumer was expected to mix into the margarine. It was so bad that by 1951, a company, W. E. DENNISON COMPANY, placed a yellow dye in a package of margarine. The purchaser emptied the capsule inside the product and added it to evenly distribute the dye. Different brands of margarine continue to arrive in the market. Some were premium brands others were budget brands. These terms in themselves suggested that the qualities varied. Then, by the 1960s Scandinavian brands opened yet another debate, this time about what should be termed SPREAD, the term often used in Nigeria margarine advertising. By the 21st century, which is from year 2000 onwards, consumer appeal had continued to grow, with many brands knocking out hydrogenated oils and becoming Trans-fats free. The brands of this age are stable in the refrigerator. Some brands even claim to be enriched with Omega 3 fatty acid, to be salt free and to contain only about one third of the fat and calories value of the good old margarine. Some brands even claim to contain Olive oil and plant sterols, both of which boost immunity and protect against elevated cholesterol blood levels.
Nigeria’s Blue Band Margarine
Other than that Nigeria’s Blue Band margarine does not melt easily under boiling point temperature which its accusers say is inimical to health, there is hardly any other claim against it for now. We are left with a newspaper report which says the CONSUMER PROTECTION COUNCIL is investigating the report. The report, in This Day, says: “The Consumer Protection Council says it has opened enquiry into the controversy over whether Blue Band spread in bread is safe or not. Stating thus in a release made available to this Day and signed by the CPC Director-General, Babatunde Irukera, the control body said the purpose of the inquiry was to ensure Blue Band products differentiated or otherwise are safe and subjected to proper processes and in-trade handling consistent with the different properties and characteristics of each product. The DG said he was aware that a short demonstration video showing how Blue Band spread for bread (a product of UNILEVER Nigeria Plc) reacts under certain heat conditions and has been circulating, particularing on social media, adding that the video or impression it conveys has become the subject of anxiety and intense controversy. He said that this suggests that the product which the narrator considers a functional equivalent of Blue Band original is unsafe because, when subjected to high temperature boiling water, it did not melt or dissolve. Available scientific information confirmed that, though butter, margarine and spread appear analogous, and share similar component, characteristics and uses, they are different products available to consumers. Butter and margarine share particular similar characteristic, low resistance to heat, as such both are likely to melt when subjected to certain levels of heat spread, however, have varying heat resistance depending on intended uses and production process. As a result, it is not necessarily unsafe that a spread does not melt under similar heat conditions as butter or margarine. Spread are produced in parts by adding emulsifiers which are additives used in stabilising and binding processed foods. They are not in inherently unsafe or uncommon. The specific emulsifying agent and amount used largely depends on many factors including shelf life, storage, and handling and climatic conditions inorder to prevent microbial activities.
He said the manufacturer of the product has made a statement seeking to address public concern by differentiating its product and explaining purposes of the two different products.
‘The Council continues to collaborate with NAFDAC and SON regarding applicable safety standards, but advised that consumption of butter, margarine or spreads generally are not unsafe’.
I do not see much coming out of this dust at the end of the day. The video may very well be one of those junk stuff on the social media or the council may never really get to the bottom of it or, the consuming consumers may remain traditionally inert. Didn’t they behave as if nothing happened when soft drink exported from Nigeria to the United Kingdom were impounded by that country because they were overloaded with poisonous chemical which were unsafe for human health? In such matters, I act on gut instinct. As I said earlier, I bade such stuff as bread, white flower or wheat based, milk, margarine, butter, poultry egg, poultry chicken and turkey, and even pond raised fish, by a long, long, time ago. In their places, I go for their more natural equivalent. Avocado pear is in season now. It serves the purposes of butter and margarine. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, Zinc, Omega-6 fatty acids, chlorophyll, mineral and vitamins, and lots more. When it goes out of circulations, Ube will come in season. If you must take butter and margarine, you may wish to protect your health by taking dietary supplements that are fat emulsifiers (Lecithin, for example) and blood thinners (Cayemne).
Do not forget Fish oil, flat seed oil or the proprietary blend of Udo’s oil, for Omega -3 fatty acids. They not only help to bridge the 1.25 Omega 3 ratios to Omega -6 ratio towards the ideal 1.1 ratio, they are anti-inflammatory and blood thinners as well. Hydrogenation changes the chemical structure of oils. Structure is function. Altered structure means altered function. Hydrogenation causes total cholesterol levels to rise and raises the level of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), the dangerous cholesterol fraction and decrease the good cholesterol. It causes inflammation, over acidity, heart disease, diabetes and many more. This is why I avoid foods in which hydrogenated oils are present. Margarine is one of them.
[About the author: Natural Health Product guru Olufemi Kusa can be contacted via Olufemikusa.com]