French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal has recently stated that people should reduce consumption of products such as Nutella because of its adverse effects on the environment.
Not that the very act of consuming Nutella has any direct effects on the environment, but rather it is more to do with origin of one of the constituent ingredients of the popular spread; palm oil.
The use of palm oil is arguably undesirable due to its wide variety of uses in foods and cosmetics. Palm fruit trees from which the oil is derived are now being grown widely around the world, particularly in areas with rainforests.
Due to demand for palm oil for products consumed by Western countries, deforestation rates have increased in order to create space for palm fruit tree monocultures. This has severe implications on many levels, namely on biodiversity: deforestation and monocultures significantly reduce biodiversity by destroying existing habitats, and making new ones only hospitable to some species.
Furthermore, monocultures tend to be unsustainable and unstable as they are more susceptible to diseases and pests, because if there is a pathogen that can cause damage to one of the trees, it can damage all of the trees and suddenly cause a massive shortfall in the supply of the product, which is not economically desirable.
Intensive agricultural practices such as these are out-dated and need to be addressed urgently. Though the growing of palm fruit trees does not directly affect climate change, the biggest ‘green issue’, as mentioned previously, it has severe implications for biodiversity and the survival rates of many organisms that are crucial to global and regional ecosystems, which could have untold consequences for humans down the line.
But this argument should not just be framed in practical terms, a moral argument must also be made. It can safely be said that we as a species have the most influence on this planet that all other thus far, and for that reason I believe that we do have an obligation to be considerate in all our practices, and of the potentially devastating consequences of our actions.
It’s important that we voice our support for alternatives to palm oil in various products, and encourage international regulations on deforestation in vital ecosystems for the longevity of our planet and all the species that it supports. This can be done in many ways, such as looking online for products that include palm oil, finding out which brands do and do not include it, and acting based on that information, and/or by signing and sharing petitions such as the ones linked below.
Biodiversity may not be an exciting subject on the surface, and Nutella may be delicious, but I’d take doing my part to save the life of an orangutan over having a spoonful of Nutella any day.
If it helps, try to remember this when making small, day-to-day choices:
Nothing and anything is enough.