GMO cacao, a potential future?
Have you noticed on some of your favorite chocolate bar the tags GMO-FREE? Do you wonder what it means? Let me reassure you, there is currently no GMO cacao grown across the globe. Unfortunately, it isn’t because our scientists haven’t tried, because a lot of research has been produced for this purpose, but rather because cacao is too complex.
As you probably know, cocoa and cacao refer to the same plant, Theobroma cacao. We will use the word “cacao” when referring to ancestral methods of cultivation and “cocoa” to refer to industrialized methods.
Some say that GMO cocoa could save the future of our chocolate industry. There is a chocolate shortage predicted within the 5 next years due to climate change, diseases, and demand growth. (National Geographic)
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) reported that diseases and pests have resulted in the loss of 30% to 40% of global cocoa production. The report also noted that cocoa species are susceptible to a disease called frosty pod, which has led to entire cocoa farms being abandoned in Latin America. (Business Insider, 2019) Therefore, the search for GMO cocoa has become a race for large-scale chocolate companies.
In West Africa where we find 70% of the production of cocoa in the world, the challenges to growing cocoa keep increasing. So, what will happen to our chocolate? But the real question should be, Do we want GMO cocoa or not? What is the real threat ahead of us in the cocoa industry? And, are we ready to face the consequences of potentially extinct cocoa?
The non-GMO chocolate bars aren’t having GMO cocoa yet, but rather other ingredients containing GMOs such as refined sugar, corn syrup, or soy lecithin. Theobroma cacao itself is an extremely complex profile food with over 600 different flavor components. Many compare the future of chocolate to wine with its refined taste and meanwhile, wine has nearly 200 different flavor components– so imagine the potential of cacao.
Though there isn’t per se GMO cocoa, there are hybrids. Typically, Criollo cacao strains (which are the highly medicinal, ancestral varieties) are crossed with Forestero strains (which are the ones with high production yields and typically less complex flavor and medicinal value). This hybrid, often called Trinitario, as well as many other hybrids, can result in flat flavors and take away all the magic and complexity found in cacao, the fruit once known as ‘’the food of the gods’’.
With Cacao Source we do not support GMO cacao research. Instead, we choose to go to the root of the problem. The main problem we identify is the lack of response from large-scale companies to climate change, monoculture fields, and indulgence in underpriced chocolate leading to exploitative wages.
When working with cacao farmers, we believe that cacao should always be grown in an agroforestry system, making it easier to control pests and support the ecosystem. We embrace the complexity of cacao and explore its potential as nature provided it. If we can’t take care of our environment and climate change endangers our favorite food, shouldn’t it be a wake-up call to change our society’s exploitative culture and start taking drastic actions to protect the remaining of our environment? GMO cocoa seems like a quick fix to a much more complex challenge coming our way.
Lets be mindful of our cacao sourcing and support sustainable practices so our favorite cacao may strive in nature and the farming communities be valued for their hard work. The complexity of cacao is a gift to be valued and enjoyed. Instead of trying to change our cacao, why not trying to change our consumption habits?