The new year has just begun, and chocolate lovers have already been hit with scary news: We could run out of chocolate in 40 years, as climate change makes it too hot for cacao plants to survive.
The news spread quickly on social media, with chocoholics fearing for their future fix.
T-shirts and mugs with the slogan, "Save our planet. It's the only one with chocolate," took on new poignancy. But are we really facing a future without it?
No, say scientists.
The story behind the story
The story originated with an article on Business Insider, warning that cacao plants — the source of chocolate — "are slated to disappear as early as 2050 thanks to warmer temperatures and dryer weather conditions."
It went on to explain that scientists at the University of California, UC Berkley, are teaming up with candy producer Mars to "try to save the crop before it's too late."
DW talked to the researchers at UC Berkley who, to our great relief, said cacao plants are not on their way out.
"Unfortunately, the original article that sparked the media interest in our cacao project contains inaccurate information," Megan Hochstrasser, science communications manager at UC Berkley, told DW. "Chocolate is not 'on track' to go extinct in 40 years."
As the Business Insider story correctly reported, the research team is working with scientists from the Mars company. But their goal is not to generate cacao trees that will grow at higher temperatures, but to make plants resistant to viral and fungal diseases.
A fungus has plagued cacao plants in South America for decades. The scientists are using CRISPR gene-editing to tweak the DNA of cacao to make it more disease-resistant, Hochstrasser explains.
Climate change and chocolate
So where did the news about chocolate going extinct come from?
The Business Insider article refers to a 2014 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicating that under a "business as usual" scenario the world's leading chocolate producers, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, might experience a 3.8 Fahrenheit increase in temperature by 2050, and may no longer be able to cultivate cacao.
The UC Berkley researchers agree that "climate change also threatens cacao."
The vast majority of cacao is produced in West Africa and rising temperatures could reduce the amount of land suitable for its production, which in turn "could speed up the spread of disease," the scientists said in a statement.
But not "to the point of extinction," they added.
Over half of world's chocolate supply is grown in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. But cacao is also produced in the Caribbean, India and Australia.
So, no, we're not about to say goodbye to our favorite candy. But, like many of the crops we depend on for sustenance and pleasure, cacao production isn't helped by rising temperatures.
This article originally appeared on DW.com. Its content is published separately from USA TODAY.