France considers big tax hike on key ingredient in Nutella

The World

The French government is considering a so-called fat tax on palm oil, a key ingredient in Nutella. (Photo by A. Kniesel via Wikimedia Commons.)

So-called “fat tax” measures and bans on junk foods are common these days.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, banned the sale of soda cups larger than 16 ounces.

In France, there is a proposed amendment to put a 300 percent tax on palm oil, which is high in saturated fat and deemed unhealthy.

It’s found in innumerable everyday items and food products like baby formula, cookies, chocolate bars and margarine.

But the amendment has been nicknamed the “Nutella tax” because the chocolate-hazelnut spread contains no less than 20 percent palm oil. Adrien Gontier, a graduate student studying geochemistry in Strasbourg, France, is a big opponent of the use of palm oil.

He has spent a year living without any products containing palm oil and regularly blogs about his experience. He has a mixed reaction to the amendment.

“I was pleasantly surprised that senators looked into this issue,” he said, “but I think this amendment does not go far enough. They should have at least brought up the fact that using this oil also causes environmental problems.”

Gontier is referring to the fact that some palm oil plantations are responsible for deforestation and other environmental issues in countries that produce it, like Indonesia and Malaysia.

The palm oil industry complained that the tax was unfair and that it should be up to consumers to watch what they eat — something Gontier says is hard to do when food labeling doesn’t have to specify which “vegetable oil” is being used.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council also deplores the proposed tax, saying “palm oil is a healthy, natural and important product, which 240,000 small farmers in Malaysia are proud to produce.”

But Gontier said that's untrue too. Far from running sustainable, family-owned businesses, he said, “those Malaysian farmers oversee small portions of what once were gigantic plantations owned by the government or the palm oil industry.”

French consumers, however, shouldn’t worry about paying a lot more for their beloved Nutella if this tax is adopted. The extra cost will be less than a dime for a small jar of Nutella.

Regardless of what happens with the “Nutella tax,” Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, says after five decades in stores, the Nutella recipe won't be altered.