Happy Valentine’s Day! As you enjoy sweet chocolate confections today, consider this – the cacao tree is under threat from deforestation, pests and diseases, and climate change. Can it be saved by scientific intervention? Ethos Chocolate has come up with a clever promotion to help consumers embrace the possibility.
Our sweet tooth is facing a quandary: while chocolate is one of the world’s most favorite sweets, cacao is grown and harvested in some of the poorest and most ecologically sensitive regions of the world. At the expense of some of the most biodiverse flora and fauna, the destruction of rainforests especially in Western Africa where 70% of cacao is grown, has occurred as mostly small-holder farmers try to capitalize on earning just cents per day.
The impact of ineffective farming techniques, poor environmental management, increasing dry spells and lack of water has led to weakened plants more susceptible to pests and disease. In addition, political conflicts, cartels, and government intervention compromise efforts for sustainable management.
While the future of the cacao tree looks dim, the World Cocoa Foundation has over 100 supply chain members from farmers, warehouses, manufacturers, and retailers, who collaborate on solutions to save the cacao tree, protect vast tracts of rainforests, and improve the livelihoods of cacao growers.
But the elephant in the room is biotechnology. Will consumers eat chocolate that has come from a genetically modified plant? For over 30 years, Penn State, through their endowed cacao research program, has focused on biotechnology as a way to positively impact the challenges facing cacao cultivation. The University of California is working with candy giant Mars on gene editing technology to enable cacao to not only to survive but thrive in a drier, warmer climate.
A Pro-GMO chocolate brand emerges
A Fresh Look is a consortium of over 1,600 U.S. family farmers who invite consumers to learn more about the farmer behind their food. Each of these farmers uses genetically-engineered crops to grow safe, healthy food using less water, land energy, and pesticides.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, A Fresh Look has come up with a clever chocolate promotion called Ethos Chocolate to bring attention to not only the plight of the cacao tree but also to the crops that have been saved through the use of biotechnology.
“We want to help educate the public on the value of GMO farming and the positive impact biotechnology can have on a local and global scale, like slashing pesticide use an average of 37 percent worldwide,” said Rebecca Larson, A Fresh Look’s lead scientist. “We want people to enjoy these delicious chocolates but also take a fresh look at GMOs.”
The 4,000 promotional chocolate bars were quickly scooped up– the D2D team couldn’t even get any! Each flavored bar tells a story about a beloved and important fruit where technology has played a “heroic role in solving a real-world food challenge.”
The Only Thing Better Than Chocolate Now is Chocolate Forever.
That’s Our Ethos: (Ethos Chocolate)
The “Hero” is orange flavored to highlight citrus greening disease that threatens the entire Florida citrus crop.
The “Optimist” is an all-chocolate bar created by sustainably grown cacao trees.
The apple flavored “Trendsetter” demonstrates the non-browning apple that stays fresh longer to help reduce food waste.
The “Survivor” illustrates the Cinderella story of how genetic engineering saved the entire Hawaiian papaya industry from ringspot virus.
“I know first-hand how challenging it is to maintain cacao orchards,” said Eric Reid, a cacao grower and owner of Spagnvola Chocolatiers, the company that produced the limited run on Ethos Chocolate. “As a single-estate chocolatier, I understand how the finest chocolates are derived from the hands of farmers. We must take care of the cacao plant if we want to continue enjoying one of the world’s most cherished foods.” (FoodBev Media)
What do you think? Could you face a world without chocolate? Or have it be as scarce or expensive as caviar or truffles? Would you support GM technology to save the cacao tree?
The Bottom Line
The Ethos chocolate bar has done a great job illustrating how biotechnology can be a solution to keep some of our favorite foods from going extinct.