Posted by: A Part of the Solution | February 6, 2014

What’s wrong with Chocolate?

I do not want to rain on this part of the food parade. Chocolate contains all kinds of good-for-you vitamins, minerals and fiber. It lists as high in saturated fat, but the fat in question is mostly stearic acid and lowers LDL cholesterol. Chocolate is a valuable source of non-soy oil Omega 6 EFA. Chocolate is high in flavonals which serve as antioxidants and vascular toners and clot preventers in the blood stream. Consuming measured quantities of dark chocolate daily, listing at 75% cocoa solids and higher,  could bring you closer to a wide spectrum of health goals.

Or not.

I pound the drum for organic food values and production on a regular basis. I am not someone who feels certification protocols are always the best measure of organic practices. With chocolate, however, the bad news about commercial cacao cultivation will convince you ever-after to look for the Certified Organic sticker before you buy–and to know why “the better the chocolate, the more pesticide residue” is always true.

Cacao experiences a vulnerability to a wide range of fungi and pests. 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from a handful of countries along the Gulf of Guinea. In these countries, both DDT and Lindane are regularly sprayed over the cocoa crops. Those farmers too poor to receive the spray, bring smaller yields to market. The fat ratios in the cacao seeds from unsprayed plantations are markedly lower than those which received pesticide treatment. This results in a lower price per tonne to the farmer.

Sooo…. the best chocolate, having the highest fat ratio, comes from regularly sprayed orchards. Those best cacao seeds find their way into exclusive boxes of truffles and chocolate brands like Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, Lindt, and Ghirardelli. If you don’t see a certified organic icon on your chocolate/cocoa/cacao nibs, it ISN’T free of persistent pesticides.

There. I said it.

Let’s talk about ethical health and our chocolate consumption next.

In 2001, the US and UK began pressuring the big chocolate producing nations (Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon) to commit to ending trafficked child labor on the plantations. Of 200,000 child laborers in cacao production on the Gulf of Guinea, only 15,000 are believed to be trafficked. Protocols established in 2002 to phase out slave labor targeted 2005 for implementation. 2008 became the next target. Then 2010. And… 2012.

Hershey’s, Ferrero and Mars have all issued statements declaring their intention to guarantee their chocolate “slave labor-free” by 2020. Realistically, nothing short of direct pressure from Big Chocolate on the producer cooperatives appears likely to effect a real shift in this century old problem.

While Big Chocolate blocked a congressional initiative to create a ‘slave-free’ label for chocolate back in 2001, there’s still a way to buy chocolate which pays farmers and laborers a fair wage, assesses health risks in the workplace, and assures long-term buying contracts. Look for the Fair Trade icon when you go to purchase chocolate. The Fair Trade label is an excellent standard for any of the tropicals in your diet: coffee, bananas, mangoes, coconut oil, dried peppers, cane sugar, tea and tisanes.

Nearly everyone eats chocolate. Therefore, nearly everyone has the choice to seek out organically certified, Fair Trade chocolate and put their expenditures where their values are. Yes, organic and Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive. Equally, you’re not just eating a high quality, health supporting snack. You’re biting into an effort to end slavery and trafficking. You’re enjoying the demise of persistent pesticides with every mouthful.

You chocolate will taste better when you eat it with a clear conscience, I promise.



  1. It’s worth fussing at your coffee shop and local bakery over the cocoa powder they use as well. Bring the pressure to see wider change sooner.

  2. Great, timely post. Thanks.

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