France Votes Down Nutella Tax

Will chocolate spread without palm oil replace Nutella? Photo: Sophie Prach

Will chocolate spread without palm oil replace Nutella?
Photo: Sophie Prach

Nutella has accompanied anything bread since 1963, putting smiles on the faces of French children and adults alike at daily 4 o’clock goûter. “It’s been a routine of mine for as long as I can remember,” reminisces 80-year-old Janine in the Nutella aisle of the Geant supermarket in Annemasse, in northern France. Just as Nutella has started to gain popularity in North America, Australia, and New Zealand in the last few years, the well-accustomed French have become increasingly skeptical of the nutritional benefits of their beloved chocolate spread.

For a product that markets itself as rich in calcium, studies have shown that in fact Nutella should not be eaten by the spoonful, as many of us do without realizing the downsides. Who would have known that such a deliciously addictive but seemingly harmless food could contain 75% more calories per gram than a McDonald’s cheeseburger?

For its obesity-inducing effects, the French government has pointed a finger at palm oil, which contains 50% of the saturated fat. It is particularly concentrated in Nutella—amounting to nearly 20% of the spread. The French consume palm oil in particularly large amounts. Every year, the average French person eats 2 kg of Nutella.

Aside from its artery-clogging effects, the production of palm oil “en masse” has environmental consequences that go beyond the French borders. In particular, Indonesia, the supplier of 90% of the world’s palm oil, has experienced significant deforestation.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s chief executive backs the country’s important export, claiming, “ Palm oil is a healthy, natural, and important product which 240,000 farmers are proud to produce.” WWF, however, begs to differ. Malaysian apes especially suffer the consequences of deforestation. “Why not propose a tax differentiating producers according to their environmental conscience?” asks a WWF representative.

Yves Daudigny, a socialist member of the French Senate, aimed to “fight against obesity” by “encouraging producers to turn to less health-threatening products.” He put forward a tax on Nutella that would have seen a 300% tax on palm oil, equivalent to an additional six cents per kilogram of the spread. The tax revenue was expected to be around 400 million euros.

While the Nutella tax was voted down on 20 November, the buzz it generated in the media encouraged Casino to come out with a new chocolate spread with the slogan, “I am hazelnut. The first chocolate spread without palm oil.” Jean from the Geant at Annemasse was not overly impressed, remaking, “I appreciate the efforts, but Nutella will always be Nutella to me.”

While the French government failed to impose the measure, the associated drama revealed Nutella’s harmful effects to the public, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Even if the tax was considered unnecessary, there is no denying that Nutella’s dearness to the French heart played a role in blocking its passage.

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