Hypocritical chocolate

A few months ago I commented in this post that a Finnish company was promoting lab-grown coffee under the pretext of sustainability. Now, a US company, California Cultured Inc, takes technological cynicism to new levels.

It is worth watching the video on their website to see how they justify the production of lab-grown cocoa: because it is sustainable (it does not involve deforestation to grow cocoa) and because it does not use child labour.

It seems to me to be technological hypocrisy for the same reasons I gave in the case of Finland for coffee. Many of the countries that are now rich got rich by deforesting their land in the 19th century. There are no primary forests left in Europe except for a little bit in Poland. The United States deforested half the country between 1620 and 1925. If they have then increased their forest area, as in Europe, it is because they can and we can afford it.

Ivory Coast lives from cocoa exports. They don’t deforest for fun, but for a living. Could cocoa cultivation be better managed? Surely. Could more be done to eliminate child labour? Fair trade cocoa is already doing a lot to achieve this. If poverty is eradicated, child labour will most likely disappear.

Does this mean I am against forest conservation? No, what I think is that if we want to prevent forests from disappearing, we have to pay for their conservation to their owners, the people who live in them. As in rich countries, the existence of forests has to be compatible with their exploitation, just as the creation of national parks has to respect the people who live in them. Any environmental action – for example, the reduction of cattle to reduce methane emissions – has to consider the people who make a living from it, and compensate them.

When all this happens, we will see if we consider laboratory cocoa ethical and sustainable, or rather hypocritical.

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