Threats of French ‘fat tax’ on Nutella spark palm oil row

The Guardian, PARIS

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - Page 7

It is the sweet and sickly staple of many a French schoolchild’s breakfast: la tartine de Nutella, a dollop of nutty chocolate and hazelnut spread on a slice of baguette.

An estimated 235,000 tonnes of the paste — reportedly invented in the back room of an Italian pastry shop in 1944 — are consumed every year, about 100 million pots in France alone.

Little wonder then that health warnings and government threats to impose a fat tax, known as the “Nutella amendment,” have caused a mini revolution among Gallic consumers and sparked an international row.

On Monday, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council hit back at French claims that palm oil, a key ingredient in Nutella and widely used in margarine, biscuits and crisps, was detrimental to the environment and fueling obesity.

“Malaysia is deeply concerned with French Senator Yves Daudigny’s proposed 300 percent tax increase on palm oil. Palm oil is a healthy, natural and important product which 240,000 small farmers in Malaysia are proud to produce,” the council said.

“Contrary to Senator Daudigny’s comments, every nutritional and food expert concludes that palm oil is in fact free of dangerous trans fats, free of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and contains valuable vitamins,” the council’s chief executive said in a statement.

Nutella makers Ferrero (of Ferrero Rocher-chocolates fame) have also moved to reassure its customers in France, insisting that there would be no change in the recipe.

“Even if the tax is passed, we’re not planning to change our recipe,” Frederic Thil, French director of the Italian company, told Le Parisien.

He added that if the French went ahead with the increase, it would add at most 0.06 euro (US$0.07) to the price of a pot.

Nutella was first hit in 2010 by a broadside from the EU that insisted jars of the spread would have to carry a health warning as it did not conform to the EU’s “nutritional profile.”

Nutella’s main ingredients are sugar, milk powder, hazelnuts, cocoa, emulsifier, flavoring and palm oil.

France’s Socialist government plans to quadruple taxes on products containing palm oil, arguing that its production is detrimental to the environment and its consumption is fueling obesity.

At present palm oil is taxed at about 100 euros per tonne in France, but the government is proposing to raise this to 400 euros. About 20 percent of Nutella is palm oil.