Researchers from the University of Surrey have identified how biotechnology can be applied to the chocolate supply chain to help cocoa farmers get a better deal on their beans.
The £61 billion chocolate industry continues to struggle with shocking and unethical farming practices. About 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, particularly Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where efforts to end the exploitation of the millions of children involved in cocoa farming have been largely fruitless. A significant proportion of these child laborers are said to be victims of human trafficking or slavery.
The volatile price of cocoa in recent years has led to a wave of suppliers looking to buy cheaper beans. These often come from deforested regions with lower quality plants and evidence of human rights abuses, which influence the prices and practices of legitimate farmers and jeopardize sustainability gains.
Researchers from the University of Surrey and their colleagues have now published a Supply Chain Management study describing how biomarkers can be used to identify ethically sourced chocolate.
These biomarkers would create fingerprint-like “meta-barcodes” – an immutable barcode extracted from the plant’s DNA – providing a unique identification of a plant, which can also be observed in its beans and subsequent chocolate products. These biomarkers, the researchers say, would be used to confidently identify the company, production facility, or agricultural cooperative at the source.
To realize this new process, a controlled dataset of biomarkers from registered sites is needed for the audit. The study goes on to explain that this missing piece – a biomarker database to identify the origin of cocoa products – could be built by companies at an estimated cost of £5 per sample.
Professor Glen Parry from the University of Surrey said: “The chocolate market has become turbulent and we have evidence of more than 100 years of supply chain slavery. Governments and chocolate producers face an ethical challenge and must operate a trade rife with the destruction of drastically improve the environment and human misery.
“We have an effective approach for them to make progress,” he continued. “We show that biomarkers can provide insight into the supply chain from the individual farm to the retail chocolate bar. This solution could now be within reach, with the journey of the chocolate in your fridge traceable back to the cocoa trees where it is sourced. began.”