Whether you eat it on toast, croissants, or straight from the jar (me), Nutella is the chocolate-hazelnut spread we all know and love.
It’s recently also been under fire for allegedly causing cancer, mass deforestation, extinctions and exacerbating climate change.
These allegations are due to one of Nutella’s ingredients: palm oil. The oil, used to give the spread it’s velvety smoothness, went viral recently for being potentially carcinogenic (that is, cancer causing). Don’t worry though – the World Health Organisation, European Food Safety Authority, and US Food and Drug Administration have all confirmed palm oil is safe to consume. There have however been concerns about palm oil’s (and thus Nutella’s) impact on the environment.
Palm oil is derived from the fruit of oil palms, trees native to West and Southwest Africa, as well as Central and South America. The demand for this tree as a crop (palm oil is versatile, has no trans fat and produces up to 10 times more yield than other plant oils) has in many cases led to the clearing of many hectares of rainforest so that oil palms can be planted.
Several issues arise from this. Firstly, in an ever warming climate, cutting down large areas of rainforest releases massive amounts of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At the same time, species that are native to these forests (such as orangutans, elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers) are put under greater threat as their habitat and food sources are destroyed. The issue is further muddied by the fact that while environmentally destructive, palm oil plantations have in some cases helped reduce poverty.
So what’s the solution? Should we all stop eating Nutella to save the environment?
Thankfully, Ferrero (Nutella’s parent company) announced that as of January 2015, all their products would only use palm oil that was 100% certified sustainable by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This means that the oil used for Nutella (and in other Ferrero products) comes from plantations that do not contribute to illegal deforestation, pollution or unethical working conditions. In fact, Ferrero received top marks in 2016 WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard for their commitment towards using sustainable palm oil.
Unfortunately, the scorecard also notes how many other manufacturers and retailers still do not use sustainable palm oil. Considering the oil is used in everything from shampoo to bread, if you’re not careful it’s easy to inadvertently buy products contributing to deforestation. By law, manufacturers don’t have to specify palm oil on ingredients labels – meaning often it’s listed as “vegetable oil” or “vegetable fat”.
But for now we can all breathe easy eating Nutella. So long as you’re not eating tubs of it daily (oops) you can be pretty sure it’s not hurting you or the environment.