food / travel

Nutty New Tax On Nutella? French Senators Cite Italian Spread's Health Risk

LA STAMPA (Italy), LE MONDE (France)


PARIS - With their competing culinary traditions, France and Italy are used to friendly arguments over cooking supremacy. But a minor food war has now erupted over something straight out of the jar: Nutella, the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread beloved by kids (of all ages!) in both countries.

A bill is moving forward in the French Senate that would levy major additional taxes on palm oil, a key ingredient in Nutella. Socialist party Senator Yves Daudigny, who proposed the tax, says palm oil can be a major factor in the growing ills of obesity and heart disease.

The current tax is 98.74 euros per ton of palm oil, while this amendment would increase it by an additional 300 euros, a more than 300 percent increase. The tax would force Nutella to rise by six cents per kilogram, reports Le Monde.

The Italian daily La Stampa reports that the French affiliate of Ferraro, the northern Italian food giant that makes Nutella, has hit back explaining that the oil “doesn’t contain hydrogenated fats, whose toxic effects are well known.” The food industry in France has also responded, asking why, if it is so harmful to one's health, is it being taxed and not banned completely?

If the tax is approved, it will add an estimated 40 million euros to the government coffers. Still, it may not slide through so easily: there are no doubt secret Nutella lovers inside the French Senate.


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Why Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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