Nutella, the hazelnut chocolate spread, eaten in over 160 countries of the world, came under international focus with the French ecology minister Ségolène Royal asking people to avoid eating the Italian food product. Saying that Nutella was responsible for large scale deforestation, the minister urged people to save the planet by bunking the spread.
Ferrero, the company that sells Nutella is said to use up 25% of the world’s hazelnut production. According to a media outlet, the amount of Nutella consumed in 2013 alone is comparable to the weight of the Empire State Building. The popularity of the spread is undoubtedly soaring.
The French minister came under scathing attack by her counterpart in Italy who vowed to eat Nutella for dinner, that very day. Royal had pointed out that large swathes of forests were being obliterated to make way for palm plantations. Palm oil is a major ingredient of the hazelnut chocolate spread, which an Italian politician defended as a product of “Italian excellence”.
The row went international with Malaysian farmers criticizing the French Minister for tampering with their source of livelihood. The country is the largest supplier of hazelnut to Ferrero. The company on its part, issued the statement saying it will source its ingredients from “certified sustainable sources”.
The French minister soon after backtracked, offering a “thousand apologies” to the company and went a step ahead to appease the infuriated Italians, by saying that she would flag up the progress of the company, as it undertook the required corrective steps.
There are many disturbing questions that the episode has thrown up. Are we unwilling to forfeit a food product regardless of the implications it has on the environment? Why was the debate taken as an offence, instead of acknowledging its larger ramifications? Thirdly, how much power does a corporation wield that it could pressurize an ecology minister to retract her statement? Lastly, are there enough systems in place to keep a tab of whether Ferrero follows up on its promise?
The answers to these are crucial and hopefully not damning.