What is Ethos Chocolate?

Ethos Chocolate launched in early February and quickly drew attention for their unusual pro-GMO marketing campaign. In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, the company offered customers the opportunity to order free chocolate bars for themselves or their loved ones, with no motive other than to share delicious chocolate and educate consumers about GMO farming. And though a 2018 study by the Hartman Group found that 46 percent of U.S. consumers avoid GMOs, the Ethos Chocolate bars were quite popular. In fact, the company, which began accepting orders on February 1, reported on February 11 that 3,000 bars had already been ordered.

Ethos Chocolate is a collaboration between A Fresh Look and Spagnvola Chocolatiers that is intended to bring awareness to the benefits of genetically modified foods. A Fresh Look is a coalition of U.S. farmers dedicated to educating consumers about GMOs, and Spagnvola Chocolatiers is a sustainably minded chocolate company that sells single-estate chocolate sourced from Hato Mayor Del Rey in the Dominican Republic.

The two companies teamed up on this project in order to raise awareness about the positive impact GMOs can have on the conservation of natural resources such as water, land, and energy. Chocolate is a particularly apt focus for this promotion, as the Ethos Chocolate press release cautions that “cacao is on track to go extinct by 2050, with some reports predicting as early as 2030” and proposes that “genetic engineering may be the solution to save the cacao trees used to make Ethos Chocolate bars, as well as the cocoa that goes into all chocolate.”

To bring additional attention to the beneficial effect GMOs have already had, each of Ethos Chocolate’s three flavored bars highlights a fruit that has been saved through genetic modification. The Survivor bar, for example, features a papaya flavoring, which is intended to draw consumers’ attention to the fact that papaya ring-spot virus decimated papaya groves in the early 1990s, and thus far the only effective solution for the disease is genetically engineered resistance. The Trendsetter, on the other hand, spotlights the way that apples have been modified to brown more slowly, which helps reduce food waste.

The final bar, The Hero, brings attention not to a problem that GMOs have solved, but one that still needs a solution. This orange flavored chocolate is intended to bring consumers’ attention to citrus greening disease, which poses a significant threat to the species, yet could be solved through genetic engineering.

Companies That Use Pro-GMO Marketing

Though many companies tout their GMO-free status, others have begun to proudly embrace their use of GMOs. For example, the plant-based burger company, Impossible Foods, reports that "we genetically engineer yeast to make one of the key ingredients in the Impossible Burger: 'soy leghemoglobin' or 'heme.' This process allows us to make it at scale with the lowest achievable environmental impact." As the company promotes environmental conservation through plant-based eating, their stance on GMOs aligns well with their mission and likely appeals to likeminded customers.

Similarly, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which developed the non-browning Arctic Apple, proudly claims, "We see the benefit of using every tool in the toolbox to develop new products, including utilizing genetic engineering and advanced molecular biology tools. We believe strongly in their value."

Pros and Cons of GMOs

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Kirby Barth

As these companies have found, there are numerous benefits of genetically modified foods. The environmental benefits, such as reducing food waste, are only the beginning. The increased efficiency of genetically modified crops may also play a crucial role in feeding our rapidly growing population. There is also the potential to engineer crops to withstand climate change

As with any new technology, however, some consumers have questions about the safety of recent innovations in genetic engineering. Though new genetically modified foods undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety, there is concern that the protein products expressed by implanted genes may trigger allergic reactions in those with food allergies. And since much of the innovation around GMOs is so recent and rapid, the long term effects of these foods remains to be seen.

Ultimately, it is important that consumers be aware of the research on GMOs- both the benefits and the potential drawbacks- in order to make informed decisions. And for those who do decide to purchase genetically modified foods, an numerous companies are now making those products available.