Officials at Mars, the candy company best known for M&Ms and SNICKERS, are worried that 40 years from now the cacao plants used for chocolate could become extinct because of the forces of climate change. OH. MY. GOD!
And so, the company is investing in a research program at the University of California at Berkeley that uses gene editing technology to develop cacao seedlings that can survive, even thrive, in the dryer, warmer temperatures that climate change is creating.
According to Business Insider, a new technology called CRISPR, allows for tiny, precise tweaks to DNA that now make crops cheaper and more reliable. However, its most important use may be in the developing world, where many of the plants people rely on to avoid starvation are threatened by the impacts of climate change, including more pests and a lack of water.
Cacao plants occupy a precarious position because they can only grow within a narrow strip of rainforested land roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator, where temperature, rain, and humidity remain relatively constant throughout the year.
The Business Insider article notes that over half of the world's chocolate now comes from just two countries in West Africa — Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.But those areas won't be suitable for chocolate by 2050 because rising temperatures will push today's chocolate-growing regions more than 1,000 feet uphill into mountainous terrain — much of which is currently preserved for wildlife.
Aware of these problems and others presented by climate change, Mars in September pledged $1 billion as part of its "Sustainability in a Generation" effort, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and supply chain by more than 60% by 2050.
"We're trying to go all in here," Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider. "There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don't think we're getting there fast enough collectively."
Mars' initiative at UC Berkeley is part of that effort. If all goes as planned, they could develop cacao plants that don’t wilt or rot at their current elevations, eliminating the need to relocate farms or find another approach.
It's a forward-thinking, forward looking approach by Mars, and chocolate lovers around the world will be ever so grateful in the years to come.
Think I'll go have a SNICKERS!