New Way to Ensure Your Favourite Chocolate Is an Ethical Treat

Chocolate is widely seen as an affordable and essentially harmless treat - a food of comfort, celebration and joy. But those bars, cakes and Easter eggs are also part of a U.S.$84 billion a year global industry with a troubling history of social and environmental harm. Over two million child labourers are estimated to be working on cocoa farms in West Africa. Some are tricked or sold into slavery on those farms where they are forced to carry heavy loads of cocoa, use harmful pesticides, and handle machetes. Reports suggest the problem is getting worse, despite promises from large chocolate producers.

At the heart of this complex issue is the difficulty of tracing cocoa from farms to the end product. The majority of the world's crop - around 70% - is grown on small farms in remote areas of Ghana and Cote d' Ivoire. But research suggests a solution could now be within reach, with a reliable system that tracks the journey from cocoa trees to the chocolate in homes.

The system uses something called "biomarkers", which are like biochemical fingerprints or bar codes extracted from the plant's DNA. These provide a unique identifier of a plant that is also observed in its beans. This allows for the identification of an individual farm's beans from a mixture of beans of different origins in the final product. The method has now been successfully tested in a study of cocoa supply chains, tracing specific plants on individual farms through to chocolate products, writes Michael Rogerson, PhD Candidate, University of Bath; Glenn Parry, Professor of Digital Transformation, University of Surrey, and Pedro Lafargue, Research Fellow, University of the West of England.


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