Typically when food packaging mentions GMOs it’s to call attention to the fact that their products are devoid of genetically modified organisms. Brands go to great lengths to prove GMO-free status, boldly displaying a “non-GMO” label with a colorful butterfly. Companies whose products do contain genetically modified ingredients tend to keep that detail to themselves. There was a time you’d be hard-pressed to find a brand advertising the inclusion of GMOs. But a new line of chocolate bars, Ethos Chocolate, has just launched with a loud-and-proud “pro-GMO” label.
Ethos Chocolate is backed by a coalition of more than 1,600 farmers who are part of A Fresh Look, an organization committed to educating consumers about GMO agriculture. By arming the public with more information, the organization hope to change the public’s perception of the crops. And nothing sweetens a teaching moment quite like chocolate, right?
“Ethos Chocolate was designed to help share the ‘sweet’ truth about GMO farming,” Rebecca Larson, Ph.D., a lead scientist for A Fresh Look told Well+Good on Wednesday. “New research has found that the people who hold the most extreme views opposing genetically modified foods think they know most about GM food science, but actually know the least. In an effort to combat misperceptions, A Fresh Look has created a product to illustrate the many benefits of a technology that is too often misunderstood.”
The Environmental Working Group, which is historically skeptical of GMOs, declined to comment for this story. Similarly, the Non-GMO Project also declined a request for comment. Both organizations believe that consumers have a right to know whether or not the food they buy contains GMOs. Those wary of GMOs cite concern about potential long-term health effects connected to relatively new technology used in genetic engineering.
But an effort to save the cacao tree, Ethos Chocolate says, is precisely the reason for the company’s usage of GMO cacao. Some studies suggest that the trees, which produce a rather essential chocolate ingredient, could be extinct by 2050. Each of the brand’s four flavors features a fruit the brand claims GMO farming has saved, via a press release:
The Optimist (plain cacao): “Genetic engineering is being explored to protect cacao trees like the ones in the Dominican Republic that make the Ethos bars.”
The Survivor (papaya): “GMOs saved the entire papaya industry in Hawaii after it was decimated by papaya ring spot virus.”
The Hero (citrus): “GMO researchers are working to help Florida orange trees fight the citrus greening disease which threatens the entire citrus crop.”
The Trendsetter (apple): “GMO farming paved the way for non-browning apples that stay fresh longer to help cut food waste.”
“For the farmers who made Ethos Chocolate possible, GMOs are personal,” says Larson. “The farms are where they live, work, and raise their families—and they feed their families the same food they grow for us. That’s why they choose to grow crops with GMO Farming methods; it’s one of the best ways to make the food we all eat more sustainable.”
Is this the beginning of the end of brands obscuring the use of GMOs in their products? Will consumers come around? In any case, food companies taking a publicly pro-GMO stance could signal the onset of the biggest food debate of the year.