PARIS/MILAN (Reuters) – French government minister Segolene Royal was forced to apologise on Wednesday after saying Nutella was harmful to the environment, a comment that raised hackles in the industry and in Italy where the food spread is made.
The outspoken environment minister said on French television earlier this week that people should stop eating the sugary, chocolate-hazelnut paste because it was made with palm oil, a product whose growers have come under fire from environmentalists for contributing to deforestation and destroying rare habitats.
France’s Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry body, condemned her comments, saying producers and food companies were making progress on the environmental front.
Privately-owned Ferrero says on its web site that since the end of 2013, Nutella has been made exclusively with palm oil from palm trees certified as 100 percent sustainable and guaranteed not linked to deforestation.
“A thousand excuses for the controversy over #Nutella,” Royal said on Twitter on Wednesday, two days after her initial comments. “Agreed, progress made should be recognised,”
Italian politicians had also reacted to Royal’s call for a boycott.
Agnese Renzi, the wife of Italy’s prime minister, was shown by Italian media ordering a pancake filled with the spread for her daughter Ester.
Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti tweeted he would eat bread and Nutella for dinner.
The Nutella brand has hit the political headlines before in France. In 2012, senators proposed quadrupling a tax on palm oil. The draft law was dubbed the “Nutella Tax” but was eventually rejected.
Palm oil, also extensively used in margarine, biscuits and crisps, makes up about 20 percent of the Nutella mix.
Royal’s comments about Nutella came a day after she singled out another household brand name – Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller – as part of a wider fight against pesticides seen as potentially harmful to humans.
On Monday she invited journalists to a gardening shop to film her removing it from the shelves.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Danilo Masoni; Editing by Andrew Callus)