There's no doubt that Nutella is the darling of the international condiment world. While its cousins peanut butter, speculoos, and Vegemite enjoy regional popularity, Nutella's sweeping dominance is felt in 75 countries to the tune of an annual $2.46 billion in sales. Ferrero, the company that produces Nutella, consumes a solid 25 percent of the world's hazelnut supply, and purchased a large-scale Turkish hazelnut supplier last year to assure that it would be exempt from market fluctuations in nut prices. Global Nutella sales are at an all-time high. Ferrero's former owner, multi-multi-billionaire Michele Ferrero, was the richest man in Italy until his death in February.
But in France, where Nutella is nothing less than an endless phenomenon (the country eats more than a quarter of the world's Nutella), officials want the party to end. Because our beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread, it seems, is doing very nasty things to our planet.
France's Ecology Minister Segolene Royal warned this week that the world's denizens need to learn to live without, or at least with less of, the decadent brown goo.
In an interview with French TV channel Canal+, Royal explained that palm oil—which is a primary ingredient in Nutella, and in fact, the second ingredient on its label after sugar—is a major culprit in deforestation, which has massive negative impacts on the environment.
On Monday, Royal said in an interview with French television network Canal+ that people should stop eating the popular chocolate spread because harvesting one of its key ingredients, palm oil, leads to deforestation that is damaging the environment. And that's a nice way of putting it: the industry also has a penchant for eradicating the ecosystem within the rainforest; killing orangutans, rhinos, and other already endangered species; stealing land from powerless locals; and engaging in exploitative child labor.
"We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming," Royal said in the interview. The country made a legislative attempt to place a 300-percent tax on palm oil in 2011, but it was outvoted.
According to Business Insider, Ferrero sources about 80 percent of its palm oil from Malaysia—known for its scant enforcement of human rights and growing industralization—but has spent the past couple of years emphasizing its "Ferrero Palm Oil Charter," a campaign to ensure that all of its palm oil is sustainably sourced.
The initiative includes making all of its palm oil sources fully traceable, not using fire to clear land, not clearing "High Carbon Stock" forests, protecting orangutans and other endangered species, self-reporting their carbon emissions, "respecting human rights," and "actively fighting corruption," among other goals. Their last update on the campaign was on June 12, when Ferrero said in a statement, "Our programme is making significant progress implementing the Charter with our known suppliers. We will now engage applying the same process as done previously with our remaining suppliers … In the meantime we are maintaining engagement with major suppliers in order to follow up on the action plan agreed after the field visits."
Other major consumers of palm oil, such as Dunkin' Donuts, have made similar promises in the past decade to find a way to source their goods totally sustainably. But as with the conditions for farm animals in Big Ag, it's difficult to be certain what you're buying when most of the dirty work happens out of sight, and thus, out of mind.
Especially when you're sinking your teeth into a very tasty apple fritter or slice of Nutella toast.
On MOTHERBOARD: The Race of Sustainable Palm Oil
Some argue that boycotting palm oil actually does more harm than good: Because the industry is so large and embedded, changing it seems a lot more feasible than eradicating it.
And besides, if you were to try, that would be a whole lot of hands to try to rip jars of Nutella out of.