As new research suggests an inverse correlation between objection to and understanding of genetically modified foods, could a brand that says it’s “pro-GMO” find favour among consumers?
That’s the question being posed by A Fresh Look, a nonprofit aiming to demystify GMO farming, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
The organisation – a coalition of more than 1,600 farmers – has launched a new campaign that centres around a line of pro-GMO chocolates called Ethos. The nonprofit is giving away 4,000 of the bars in total, with visitors to Ethos’ website being encouraged to mail samples to loved ones in the US.
There are four flavours based on cacao, papaya, orange and apple – all crops that have been made more sustainable or more viable by genetic engineering, A Fresh Look says. For example, GMOs saved Hawaii’s papaya industry after it was decimated by ring spot virus and has led to the development of non-browning apples that stay fresher for longer.
As its name suggests, A Fresh Look is encouraging consumers to re-evaluate their perceptions of GM food.
Rebecca Larson, lead scientist for the organisation, said: “We know many Americans are passionate about chocolate, so we’ve created a product to tangibly illustrate the benefits of a technology that is often misunderstood. Chocolate is worth saving, so what could be a better embodiment of the benefits of biotechnology than creating our own line of chocolates to tell that story?”
New research has found that people who hold the most extreme views against GM food often think they know most about the science behind it, but actually know the least. The paper – from researchers at universities in Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Toronto, and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour – found a generally inverse relationship between a person’s strength of opposition to GM foods and the amount that they knew about it. The survey canvassed more than 2,000 American and European adults.
And separate research, published in 2018 by the Hartman Group, found that 46% of US consumers generally avoid foods labelled “genetically modified” – despite no evidence that GM goods are detrimental to human health.
A further 42% of respondents said they look out for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark on packaging, underlining the strength of opposition – particularly in North America – to GMOs.
But Ethos Chocolate is painting GM foods as the only sustainable way forward for a food industry under constant pressure – not least from a changing planet and a growing demand on food resources.
The impact of climate change – including a lack of water, warmer temperatures and greater pest interference – threatens the future of the cacao tree, with some estimates that it could go extinct within 20-30 years.
“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.”
“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 by an average of 37% worldwide,” Rebecca Larson continued. “We want people to enjoy these delicious chocolates, but also take a fresh look at GMOs.”
The brand says that the awareness-raising campaign has been a hit with consumers, with just days until the chocolate industry’s annual Valentine’s windfall – the third biggest holiday for an industry that’s worth $22 billion in the US alone.
“The pro-GMO chocolate bars have been very popular,” a spokesperson for the brand told FoodBev. “We’ve currently given away 3,000 chocolate bars and have 1,000 chocolate bars remaining to give away. We will be opening up the website each morning and giving away approximately 250 chocolate bars a day leading up to Valentine’s.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019