Sunday, 11 November 2012

France debates the 'Nutella tax'

Brown stuff in a jar
The renowned qualities of French cuisine go a long way towards explaining why the French are 'patriotic' eaters who sometimes find it difficult to adapt to foreign food. There are two major exceptions to this general rule however, the first being the massively popular McDonalds, which I wrote about here, and Nutella, which is an equally popular chocolate hazelnut spread.

So it's not surprising that there have been dozens of articles in the French press recently about government plans to impose a massive 300% hike on palm oil, which is one of Nutella's main ingredients.

Nutella is an Italian product which was first marketed in 1963 by Italian company Ferrero, but it has been produced in a subsidiary here in France for years in order to keep up with French demand. And demand there is. It has become such an intrinsic part of growing up that I imagine that many French people would say it was actually French.

I don't know what percentage of children don't like chocolate but it is surely very low, and that is why almost every French child slathers it onto bread or toast for breakfast before heading off to school. They eat it during their afternoon snack as well. But the appeal doesn't stop there because many of those children continue to eat it long after they have grown up. It can be found piled onto pancakes (often accompanied by sliced banana) poured into cake recipe bowls, and it is present in many desserts. Few French homes do not have a jar of it in the cupboard, and my god daughter would go ballistic if ever I forgot to make sure I had some in stock for when she comes to stay.

The problem though, is that about 20% of Nutella consists of palm oil, a product which is known to have a very high saturated fat level and which is suspected of contributing to obesity and even heart disease. Also, the widespread use of palm oil in food has led to deforestation in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in order to create new plantations of the oil palms from which it is derived. All of this has been used by the cash-strapped government as a stick to beat it with and try to introduce a 300% tax on it. The proposal has been approved by the Senate and will now be debated in Parliament.

There has been much public debate about the proposal too, and it was even defended by a nutrition expert in one article. Her argument was 'why pick on Nutella? After all, palm oil is used in many foodstuffs and even in schools.' She says that we cannot do without it but there's no problem if we don't eat too much of it. Well that's not easy given that it is used in many bakery products, biscuits, crisps, many kinds of processed food and low-priced restaurants.

This reminds me of a....oh, never mind...

That this tax should lead to so much press coverage and debate is understandable of course, given Nutella's enormous popularity, but despite all the hue and cry the bottom line is that the tax would only lead to an almost negligeable price rise of about €0.06 per kilo.

Still, all the debate and articles will have had one positive side to them, and that is that they have served as a reminder to the public that a balanced and healthy diet is important.

So, should we be allowing our children to eat Nutella? Whatever the answer it pays to do some research, and one enterprising young Frenchman has done just that in a startling manner. Here's a video of his simple experiment, which was cheekily put to the same music that Nutella uses in its ads. Be warned, the result of his experiment is NOT a pretty sight. I don't happen to like Nutella myself and this video is certainly not likely to make me change from my usual Weetabix, banana and milk anytime soon.

Bon appetit (?)

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