On a typical Valentine’s Day, consumers buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate. Since 70 percent of that chocolate is owned by two companies, Hershey and Mars, most of it was actually processed from genetically modified (GM) corn and soybeans.
In fact, an estimated 90 percent of processed food in grocery stores use GM corn and soybeans patented by agriculture giant Monsanto Company. That includes chocolates, which contain soy lecithin and high fructose corn syrup — a sweetener that’s been tied to the obesity epidemic.
Milk chocolate is also likely to contain milk from cows injected with Monsanto’s hormone rBGH, which was banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada because of the risks associated with increased hormones in cows and humans. The hormone was approved in the US when a Monsanto employee, Margaret Miller, oversaw a report on rBGH’s safety, took a job at the FDA, and promptly approved her own report.
Though there is no conclusive evidence a box of GM chocolate will endanger your loved one’s health, the ubiquity of GM corn is still cause for concern. GMOs were marketed in the 1990s as a way to cut down on toxic pesticides, as the plants themselves were modified to repel pests and weeds. But a new crop of studies show these GM seeds are giving rise to evolved weeds and pests with beefed-up tolerance for pesticides. Farmers then have little choice but to apply heavier doses of even more toxic chemicals in an arms race with nature.
The GM corn and soy takeover has also helped Monsanto run hundreds of farmers out of business. Monsanto has won more than $23 million by suing small farmers accused of violating Monsanto’s patent by saving seeds for the next harvest. Monsanto dedicates formidable resources — 75 staffers and $10 million a year — to the sole purpose of investigating and prosecuting these farmers. The vast majority of these lawsuits end in settlements, and Monsanto has won every case that does go to trial. But for the first time, the Supreme Court may intervene in this vicious cycle when they take up the case of a soybean farmer sued by Monsanto next week.
The processed chocolate industry, meanwhile, has worked hard to obscure the true cost of their products. Hershey, Nestle, and Mars were among the companies that campaigned to defeat a GM-labeling initiative in California last year. Together, opponents of Proposition 37 spent $46 million against GM labeling, with Hershey, Nestle, and Mars alone dropping nearly $400,000 in one month. Despite the initiative’s defeat, labeling has the support of 91 percent of Americans and it is already a requirement in Europe.
So chocolate lovers don’t despair, Grist has a guide for buying more ethical chocolate.