Cacao beans

The Mars chocolate company has funded research aiming to genetically modify as much as 70 percent of the global cocoa supply, according to the Cacao Genome Database website.

In partnership with the USDA and IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, scientists at the Agriculture Research Service division of the USDA are working on gene sequencing the cocoa tree, which Mars claims will benefit the confectionery industry and the world’s cocoa growers, most of which are in West Africa.

According to the Cacao Genome Database, “Historically, cocoa production has been plagued by serious losses due to pests and diseases. The release of the cacao genome sequence will provide researchers with access to the latest genomic tools, enabling more efficient research and accelerating the breeding process, thereby expediting the release of superior cacao cultivars.”

Sequencing the cacao bean is roughly 92 percent complete, and according to the Cacao Genome Database, the project will continue to “refine the assembly and annotation, working toward a complete finished sequence.”

Chocolate is mostly consumed by the developed world despite being grown in developing countries. The U.S., France and Germany consume more than half of the world’s cocoa supply. Mars is the 5th largest privately held company in the U.S. with more than $30 billion in annual revenues. They are the second largest chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. behind Kraft.

Genetically modified crops already make up approximately 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S., and many commercial chocolate products contain GMO ingredients including high fructose corn syrup, soybean and canola oil.

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Image: EverJean