Nutella, the beloved chocolate hazelnut spread, is as popular as ever – as proved by the riots over discounted jars which took place across France last week.

But a diagram shared online showing the ingredients of Nutella may make you think twice about the treat – especially if you have concerns about controversial palm oil, sometimes listed as vegetable oil in the ingredients.

Aside from the astonishing amount of sugar it takes to create each jar, the next most prevalent ingredient is palm oil, ahead of hazelnuts, cocoa and skimmed milk powder. Additional ingredients listed on the Nutella website are lechithin and vanilla flavouring.

Responding to concerns about the amount of sugar, a spokesperson for Ferrero, owner of Nutella, said: "Our iconic recipe for Nutella is a special secret which we wish to safeguard so naturally we don't want to reveal the exact details of the ingredients. Nutritional information however is clearly stated on the product label and on the website. A portion of Nutella is 15g, or one heaped teaspoon.

"One of Ferrero's core nutritional beliefs is that small portion sizes help people to enjoy their favourite foods in moderation. The labelling on our products enables consumers to make informed choices and helps ensure that Nutella can be enjoyed as part of a varied and balanced diet."

As for palm oil, although it is rich in antioxidants, it contains high amounts of saturated fats, which can cause heart disease. Products containing palm oil are also boycotted by some people for numerous ethical reasons.

A Ferrero spokesperson said: "Ferrero's palm oil supplies come from 100% RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified and segregated oil, whilst our Ferrero Palm Oil Charter demonstrates our commitment to take our supply chain beyond RSPO requirements."

Ferrero has been credited by third parties including WWF and Greenpeace for its work sourcing sustainable palm oil.

Back in 2015, former French environment minister Ségolène Royal urged the public to stop eating Nutella because of its effect on the environment. She said: "We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it's made with palm oil." However, she later offered "one thousand apologies" for her comments, and agreed to highlight the progress made by the brand on sustainable palm oil.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), palm oil is now the most common vegetable oil in the world - but also one of the world's leading drivers of deforestation, affecting numerous tropical countries which are best for oil palm fruit growth. WWF goes as far as to say it is single-handedly the biggest cause of deforestation.

UCS says the majority of palm oil production occurs in just two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, where "huge swaths of tropical forests and peatlands (carbon-rich swamps) are being cleared to make way for oil palm plantations". This releases carbon into the atmosphere, driving climate change, and shrinks habitats for many endangered species, with orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra, tigers, rhinoceros, and elephants all particularly vulnerable. Just 15% of native species tend to survive the transition from natural forest to plantation, partially because of the increased access for poachers.

In his In Search of the Lost Girl first shown on the BBC on Sunday (28 January), Chris Packham discovered that the equivalent of 200 football pitches of rainforest is destroyed for palm oil production every single hour in Indonesia. "We're part of the problem," Packham said, adding that half of all products in UK supermarkets contain palm oil.

UCS highlighted that burning peatlands releases a dangerous haze into the air, causing severe health problems in humans. Palm oil growers have also repeatedly been accused of human rights violations such as forced labour and seizing land from local populations.

Activist group Say No to Palm Oil was formed in 2010 to educate consumers about the palm oil crisis affecting the environment, animals and indigenous people. It explained that while a large proportion of palm oil production causes a great deal of harm, it does have some positive attributes; for example, palm oil yields significantly more oil per hectare than other vegetable oil crops. The group therefore encourages people to reduce their contribution to deforestation by using only recommended deforestation-free brands like Ferrero. In 2015, Greenpeace said: "We consider Ferrero to be one of the more progressive consumer-facing companies with regards to palm oil sourcing."

Explaining the ingredient's effect on the environment when sourced unsustainbly, Say No to Palm Oil said: "A large proportion of palm oil expansion occurs at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystems in the countries it is produced. Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered as a consequence of this unsustainable development rapidly encroaching on their habitat."

And explaining the problems for local communities, the campaign group said: "With plantations systematically destroying the rainforest land that the local people depend on, communities are continuously finding themselves with no choice but to become plantation workers.

"Faced with poor and degrading working conditions, some earn barely enough income to survive and support their families. Instead of being able to sustain themselves, indigenous communities become reliant on the palm oil industry for their income and survival, leaving these villagers incredibly vulnerable to the world market price of palm oil which they have no control over."

Nutella has explained on its website why it continues to use palm oil: "Palm oil is the best option to ensure that the product has the right consistency and structure, and does not interfere with the characteristic flavors of the other ingredients.

"Most importantly, it does not resort to the hydrogenation process, which produces 'trans fats' that have been recognised by the authorities and the scientific world as particularly harmful to health. Many other oils would need to be submitted to hydrogenation to create the consistency necessary for our products."

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