Is Nutella Destroying Our Rainforests?

“We have to replant 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,” Ségolène Royal said in an interview late Monday on the French television network Canal+.

According to new reports in the Guardian, oil palms are replacing trees in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, Latin America, and West Africa to such an extent that consumers are being encouraged to boycott the product in order to force Ferrero, the manufacturers behind Nutella, to get their oils from a different, sustainable source. Farmers in these regions are reportedly losing their livelihood as manufacturers who develop the rainforest partition their native environment in order to cultivate palm plants, which causes a troubling decline in local biodiversity.

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Nutella, the report claims, should be made from “other ingredients”.

Ferrero issued a statement Tuesday saying it was aware of the environmental stakes while simultaneously claiming to have made commitments to source palm oil in a more responsible manner. Currently, Ferrero gets nearly 80% of its palm oil from Malaysia. The rest of its supply comes from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Brazil– nations home to some of the largest surviving rainforests on the planet.

Almost three years ago, French senators tried and failed to impose a 300% tax on palm oil, saying it was “dangerously fattening” (a comical if unscientific claim) and that its cultivation was bad for the environment.

Since that time, Kellog has committed to buying only sustainably-sourced palm oil, as meeting the rising demand for palm oil products often threatens biodiversity– like in Borneo, where palm cultivation has put the iconic but fragile Orangutan population at risk.

Through the 80’s and 90’s, deforestation was the biggest threat to biodiversity in southeast Asia’s tropical forests, and today plantations and industrial estates covering tens of thousands of hectares have proliferated across the region. Often, the grow regions are owned and operated by multinational corporations that conduct themselves largely at the expense of natural forests.

Palm plants, moreover, produce less oxygen per plant than old growth rainforest trees like Borneo’s Belian Tree (also known as “The Ironman Tree”), which can live for over 1,000 years but grows extremely slowly– at a rate of 0.058cm per year. Further– and perhaps most strikingly– palm plantations limit biodiversity and destroy the holdings of local indigenous populations, who must forfeit land in order for companies like Ferrero to plant enough palm to meet their demand.

Still, industry observers including Greenpeace have defended Ferrero since Royal made his comments, claiming that the company sources sustainable palm oil. While more scientific research is required in order to determine the effect that palm plants are having on the world’s rainforests and how we might harvest them sustainably, the concern remains eminent: if we plant more palm in our rainforests, something’s got to go. For the sake of biodiversity, let’s just hope it’s not the trees.

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