Andreas Späth


2015-06-22 12:00

Andreas Wilson-Späth

Nutella is big in my life. I was practically raised on the stuff (chocolate mousse spread on toast for breakfast every morning, what could possibly go wrong?), World Nutella Day is suspiciously close to my birthday, and the idea of George Clooney turning the Great Nutella Heist of 2013 into a Hollywood crime caper is one of my most delicious fantasies.

I never thought that my Nutella obsession would ever intercept with my interest in the environment. So it should come as no surprise that I was totally captivated when a major diplomatic spat rocked Europe last week. Please can we call it Nutellagate!

It all started last Monday, when the French ecology minister Ségolène Royal (best politician name ever) announced in a TV interview that people should “stop eating Nutella” because it contains palm oil.

She seemed to have a valid point. The proliferation of vast oil palm plantations to feed the lucrative global palm oil market has led to massive deforestation around the globe, especially in Southeast Asia, contributing to large-scale environmental damage, destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Royal suggested that Ferrero, the Italian chocolate empire which produces Nutella by the tanker-load, ought to be looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. The company sources most of its palm oil from Malaysia, as well as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Brazil.

This wasn’t the first time that French officials went on the warpath against the hazelnut-chocolate confectionary. Defeated in the country’s parliament in 2012, the notorious “Nutella amendment” would have imposed a 300% tax on palm oil.

The Ferrero group responded to the latest act of Gaulic aggression with a measured statement highlighting their commitment to ethically produced palm oil that doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Indeed, earlier in the year, the company achieved its goal of using only palm oil from certified sustainable plantations.

They received support from a rather unlikely ally when Greenpeace announced that they “consider Ferrero to be one of the more progressive consumer-facing companies with regards to palm-oil sourcing”.

On Twitter, senior Italian politician Michele Anzaldi demanded that Royal retract her “grave and ugly” slur against “Italian excellence”. The country’s environment minister, Luca Galletti, was less diplomatic, telling his French counterpart to “leave Italian products alone. For dinner tonight... it’s bread with Nutella”.

By Wednesday, Royale tweeted “a thousand apologies”, acknowledging the fact that Ferrero has made some real commitments to sourcing its palm oil responsibly. An all out food fight had been averted.

All mockery aside, there is a serious lesson to be learned from the incident. Palm oil isn’t just used in Nutella. It’s a major ingredient in many products from peanut butter and noodles to ice cream, cookies and toothpaste, and Nutellagate should have us all question how the things that go into the goods we consume every day are produced. Do you know where the palm oil in your shampoo comes from?

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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