WASHINGTON – Now we know it. Nutella, the popular hazelnut chocolate spread made by the Italian firm Ferrero, causes global warming. And we get this from a reputable authority: Segolene Royal, French Minister of the Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.
Deforestation, palm oil and Nutella
You see, it goes like this. Palm oil is a Nutella ingredient. And many countries, such as Indonesia, have cut down natural forests in order to obtain land for palm oil plantations. The loss of these forests is detrimental to the global environment. Therefore, if you want to be a good steward of the environment you should really stop eating all this Nutella.
Our palm oil is OK
Right after Ms. Royal uttered this warning, Ferrero, Nutella’s manufacturer, issued a statement that contradicts the French Minister. All the palm oil used by the company is sourced from environmentally safe plantations. (Whatever that means). Therefore, according to Ferrero, Royal’s comments do not apply to the palm oil the company used in its products, including Nutella.
Italian retaliation: Nutella for dinner
Following this “Nutella tempest”, Minister Royal apologized. Nutella is not such a big issue, after all. But it was unfortunately too late. The damage has been done.
In a polemic response, Luca Galletti, the Italian Environment Minister, announced that he was having Nutella for dinner. You see, finally we know that the “Nutella Issue” is at the heart of French-Italian relations. And now we know the meaning of “high stakes politics”.
Forgetting real problems
As the Nutella battle unfolds, both the French and the Italians forget that there is a genuine, ongoing tragedy at the Ventimiglia border between France and Italy. There are thousands of unhappy illegal immigrants from Africa who want to get into France. But France closed the border because it already has more than its share of illiterate, mostly Muslim, immigrants. Some of them have become Islamic radicals, killing French citizens. France does not want to take in more of them. Therefore these poor, stateless and homeless migrants are stuck there, on the Italian side of the France-Italy border. There have been riots, and more. This, I would suggest, is a real problem.
Is palm oil a big deal?
That said, let’s assume that there is indeed a clear correlation between Nutella consumption, bigger palm oil plantations in Malaysia, Brazil or Indonesia, and increased global warming. Let’s assume that it is indeed so. How big an issue can this be? Is this what a French Minister should be talking about in a TV show? Nutella?
France’s ongoing crisis
Indeed, leaving aside the African migrants at the border with Italy, let’s look at France and its really big problems. France is doing poorly. Its economy has been stuck in low gear since the Great Recession of 2008. The national debt was 63.9% of GDP in 2006. Now it is 95%. There has been negligible economic growth, (most recently less than 1%), while unemployment remains stubbornly high, (10.5% in 2014). In recent elections, the far right, xenophobic (and pro-Russia) National Front scored major victories, while a 2014 poll indicates that 27% of French young people have a favorable opinion of ISIS, the brutal movement that created the Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq, while getting notoriety because of its barbaric methods. Well, you get the picture. France is a troubled country.
Royal to the rescue
In order to breath new life into his undistinguished government, Socialist President Francois Hollande called Ms. Segolene Royal, (once his unmarried partner, and mother of his four children), into the government as Minister of the Ecology. (Ms. Royal was the official Socialist Party candidate for the French presidency in 2007, and she was soundly beaten by Nicolas Sarkozy).
And now we see the results of this inspired choice. Yes, let France focus on the right priorities. Let’s have a war on Nutella, so that we can preserve the global environment. Brilliant idea.
Or may be not, since Royal retracted, and said that after all Nutella is no big deal.