Is Nutella Bad for The Environment? Palm Oil Is, But Swearing Off The Dessert Spread Isn't Going To Help The Problem
Nutella is basically a divine gift to humankind, with its sweet, gooey texture spicing up boring, everyday food items from toast to brownies — and our collective love of it is why recent comments made by Ségolène Royal, France's ecology minister, about the beloved spread rocketed around the Internet at an impressively high speed. In an interview with French television network Canal+ on Monday evening, Royal used Nutella as an example about what we can do to prevent deforestation: "We have to plant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it's made with palm oil," she said.
What's the big deal about palm oil? It's a vegetable oil that comes from the palm fruit, but the way it's produced is troubling. The palm fruit grows on the African oil palm tree, which is known as the Elaeis Guineensis. and the fruit that grows on the tree contains 50 percent oil. However, as Royal noted, "Oil palms have replaced trees, and therefore caused considerable damage to the environment.”
But solving the problems caused by palm oil may not be as simple as not using Nutella or other products that contain palm oil. For their part, Ferrero, the company which makes Nutella, exclusively uses palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil; it reached this goal in January of 2015, a full year ahead of their goal. Furthermore, Greenpeace said in a statement to Quartz that they "consider Ferrero to be one of the more progressive consumer-facing companies with regards to palm oil sourcing." They also noted that "a blanket boycott of this agricultural crop will not solve problems in its production."
Royal may only have used Nutella as an example, but is it really as bad as her comments suggest? Here are a few talking points to consider:
1. The Palm Oil Industry Is Bad News
There's no getting around it: Palm oil is not good for the environment. The industry that produces it is a leading cause of deforestation and has also been linked to animal abuse, climate change, pollution, and human rights violations of indigenous people, who have been displaced because of palm oil farming. Many ecosystems have been destroyed by the farming of palm oil, posing a huge threat to endangered species. According to the World Wildlife Fund, "Large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers."
2. Palm Oil Is In Half of What We Consume
Palm oil is one of the most consumed oils and can be found in as many as 50 percent of household products in the United States. It's not just found in food either, as palm oil is often an ingredient in products like shampoo and makeup. This is why giving up Nutella alone is probably not going to make a huge impact in an of itself in terms of lessening the reliance on palm oil or improving the environment.
3. Nutella Sources Palm Oil Responsibly
As I noted up top, Ferrero, understands the negative environmental impacts of palm oil and are committed to sourcing it responsibly. In fact, they work with sustainable plantations and don't deforest any new land, instead harvesting palm oil from trees that have already been planted. Further support for the company from Greenpeace says that Ferrero is a "mover and a shaker" in palm oil production.
If you really want to reduce your consumption of palm oil and work against its devastating environmental impact, you can do things like volunteer or donate to environmental organizations, or try to buy and use fewer products overall that contain palm oil. Simply getting rid of Nutella from your diet isn't going to do much in terms of bettering the environment.
Images: Getty Images (4); EcoBluePrint/Flickr