LONDON— -- French environment minister Ségolène Royal apologized today for saying that everyone should stop eating Nutella.
“Very sorry for the Nutella controversy… agree to stress progress made,” she tweeted in French of the Italian sweetened hazelnut-chocolate spread.
The apology came after Royal’s Italian counterpart, Luca Galletti, said: “Ségolène Royal is worrying. Leave Italian products alone. For dinner tonight … it’s bread with Nutella.”
Another senior Italian politician, Michele Anzaldi, demanded an apology from Royal, saying on Twitter that France had committed a “serious and ugly” slight against “Italian excellence.”
Her faux pas started on French TV network Canal+ Monday night, when Royal said of Nutella, “It’s palm oil. Palm oil destroys trees and makes considerable damage.”
“But Nutella is so good!” the presenter said.
When the interviewer later added that Royal’s statement could “sink an entire company,” the minister quickly responded that the company “should use different raw materials.”
The Nutella Co., owned by the Italian Ferrero Group, uses palm oil “to give the product its creamy texture, as well as to heighten the flavor of its ingredients and tasteless properties,” the company says.
“It is the best ingredient for giving Nutella the right smoothness,” the company writes on its website, “guaranteeing its special spreadability and above all, avoiding any hydrogenation process which would produce otherwise unhealthy trans fats.”
In addition to its versatility, palm oil, which comes from the fruit of the palm oil tree, is a productive and cost-effective crop, according to a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature. Furthermore, the rising demand for vegetable oils since the 1970s has seen oil palm cultivation shift to large-scale plantations, mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia.
But, the World Wide Fund says, “its cultivation can have disastrous impacts on people and the environment,” such as “large-scale forest conversion” and the “loss of critical habitat for endangered species.”
A Nutella spokeswoman reached by ABC News declined to comment on the French minister’s comments.
But Ferrero believes it has "a significant role to play in leading the sustainable transformation of the palm oil sector, for the benefit of the environment and of the communities living and working in palm oil-producing countries," according to its website.
In November 2013, Ferrero partnered with a nonprofit called TFT (formerly The Forest Trust) and launched the Ferrero Palm Oil Charter, a 10-point pledge aimed at “addressing the leading causes of deforestation.”
The company has also committed to comply with standards goals set by the international "Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil" and, as of January 2015, Ferrero says, all company products are 100 percent traceable to certified sustainable plantations.