Nutella fans are going nuts and it’s not because they’re gobbling up the hazelnuts in Nutella.
Ferrero SpA, the Italian company that makes Nutella—the creamy hazelnut and chocolate spread that Europeans, and some Americans gobble up daily, changed its recipe. However, the change in recipe isn’t why fans of Nutella should be going nuts. It’s the tropical deforestation for palm production that should be driving them to rant in Twitter hell—check out #NutellaGate.
Ferrero SpA decided to change its recipe due to increases in the price of cocoa, the raw ingredient in chocolate. The company wanted to make sure that their profit margins remain intact, but not Earth’s tropical forests. Palm plantations are expanding at alarming rates due to increased demand for palm oil, which is found in most processed foods, like Nutella, as well as in cosmetic products and cleaning supplies.
Instead of changing their recipe to eliminate palm oil from Nutella, Ferrero SpA decided to increase the milk powder content by 1.2 percent and sugar by .4 percent. In turn, the company decreased the cocoa in Nutella by 1.6 percent, but they did not decide to lower, or eliminate, the amount of palm oil in the product. A jar of Nutella contains a lot of palm oil according to Germany’s Hamburg Consumer Protection Center, which conducted the investigation that revealed the recipe changes.
In tropical nations like Indonesia, palm plantations have been expanding at a rapid clip, critically endangering the country’s great ape population with extinction as the orangutan habitat is destroyed for more palm oil. Indonesia, along with Malaysia, exports more palm oil than any other nations on Earth. Consequently, this highly intelligent, close relative of humans, is now listed as being critically endangered of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are a little over 120,000 orangutans remaining in the wild. About 105,000 of those are in Borneo. The rest are in Indonesia where there are about 14,000 Sumatran orangutans and only 800 Tapanuli orangutans remaining. The Tapanuli orangutan is a third species, and the most rare of great apes on Earth. The Tapanuli was recently identified as being distinct from the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan populations.
As consumer demand for palm oil increases, Indonesians and consumers have allowed tropical forests to be bulldozed and burned to expand palm plantations. In addition to the threats this creates for orangutan populations, it also threatens humanity—including those who consume palm oil.
Tropical forests provide a range of natural services for humanity, including sequestering carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, one of the greatest threats to humanity. Protecting tropical forests is important several reasons apart from mitigating the impacts of climate change. Tropical forests not only provide important ecosystem services by sequestering carbon dioxide in the trees and plants, they also provide habitat for over 50 percent of Earth’s biological diversity—but they cover only seven percent of Earth’s landmass.
Over the last 8,000 years, humanity has destroyed more than 40 percent of Earth’s forests.
Population growth combined with the expansion of agricultural civilization and, eventually, industrial development has taken the greatest toll on tropical forests. According to the (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 15 million acres of forest are currently being lost or degraded every year worldwide, which is almost equivalent to the total amount of land used for palm plantations in Indonesia alone.
Indonesia has over 210 million acres of tropical forests remaining that provide food for a diverse range of species, including people who rely on forest resources for their livelihoods. Tropical forests also provide human populations with renewable sources of fuel-wood and construction materials to build shelter, while also naturally providing ecosystem services that ensure clean air and water.
Forests also stabilize soils, which is particularly important in Indonesia where increased sedimentation due to deforestation has an adverse impact on coral reef ecosystems, the largest living organisms on Earth, which live in the warm tropical waters offshore of the archipelago’s more than 17,000 islands. Sedimentation due to palm plantation expansion also has adverse economic impacts for those who rely on healthy forests and coral reef ecosystems for tourism thereby undermining Indonesian livelihoods.
Although forest loss can be attributed to logging, mining, and petroleum industrialists, infrastructure developers, commercial tree planters, livestock herders, cattle ranchers, and small-holders who practice slash-and-burn agriculture, it is the commercial agricultural interests that have the most significant impact. As they clear huge swaths of forests, or overtake lands already cleared by small-holders, they force marginalized populations further into the forest where the cycle of slash-and-burn is often repeated.
Here’s what you can do to contribute to a healthy planet.
There are several actions citizens and consumers can take to protect tropical forests, orangutans, and Earth’s biodiversity. You can start by supporting organizations and institutions focused on biodiversity conservation efforts: donate, volunteer, or simply share articles like this that raise awareness. You can start right away by sharing this article and this one: Eight Ways to Ensure Biodiversity on Earth: Insights from the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.
The easiest thing you can do is check out the label on the products that you buy. You can make a positive impact on the planet, and your health, by paying attention to what you eat. Stop eating products like Nutella that use palm oil as an ingredient. By avoiding processed foods that use palm oil, you’ll make a huge impact since nearly 50 percent of all processed foods contain palm oil.
If you do choose to consume palm oil, make sure that it’s certified sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, a non-profit organization working with multiple stakeholders in the industry, reports that only 6.4 percent of all palm oil production on Earth is certified as sustainable. For now, the easiest way to make an impact is to go without the products that contain palm oil. However, if you do choose to consume palm oil, make sure it’s certified sustainable palm oil.
Until Nutella fans and other consumers stop supporting—and begin demanding—that companies change their production practices, and governments their policies, the blame for environmental problems will continue to rest on consumers’ shoulders.
In sum, if you’re going to go nuts over a change in your favorite products’ recipe, make sure to go nuts over making changes that will ensure a sustainable future and the survival of the planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Otherwise, humanity may never be able to eat Nutella again.
Author: Dr. Matthew Wilburn King
Editor: Travis May
Publication: Elephant Journal