A French environment leader took aim at Nutella this week, calling the popular hazelnut spread a scourge on the environment. Ségolène Royal, French minister of ecology, sustainable development and energy urged consumers to give up Nutella, which is made using palm oil, over concerns that it’s destroying forests worldwide, according to Agence France-Presse. Other environmentalists, however, jumped to the product’s defense, sparking a debate over responsible palm oil production and deforestation.
“We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming,” Royal said Monday during an interview with the French television network Canal+. “We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it’s made with palm oil.” She added that palm oil plantations were replacing forests and “therefore caused considerable damage to the environment.”
About 80 percent of Nutella’s palm oil comes from plantations in Malaysia. Other sources of Nutella’s palm oil include Brazil, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, according to the BBC.
Palm oil is found in everything from ice cream to cosmetics and is made by pulping the fruit of oil palms, which are native to parts of Africa and thrive in tropical countries around the world. Palm oil plantations have been linked to a variety of environmental problems, not least the deforestation that occurs as large swaths of forest are cleared to make way for palm oil cultivation.
But a representative for the environmental group Greenpeace told Quartz that the organization opposes a blanket boycott of palm oil products, including Nutella, saying such blacklisting would “not solve problems in its production.” Greenpeace pointed out that Ferrero, the Italian chocolate company that makes Nutella, had gotten the blessing of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, meaning their product is made with palm oil that is sustainably harvested.
Nutella is a sweetened spread that first hit the market in 1964. Its key ingredients are sugar, palm oil and ground hazelnuts.
Ferrero responded to the French minister’s comments, according to Time. “Our target is to ensure our consumer that the palm oil we use in our products achieves our ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ commitments,” the company said.