Eat chocolate and save birds: What to know this Valentine's Day

Eating chocolate is now better for birds, humans and the planet.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) has expanded its Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification program to include standards for cocoa farming. 

"Smithsonian Bird Friendly certified cocoa and chocolate products help preserve critical habitat, protect biodiversity, fight climate change and support growers committed to farming sustainably," said Scott Sillett, head of NZCBI’s Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which first created the Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification standard for coffee more than 20 years ago. "Cocoa is the second crop type certified by our long-standing program. Now, both coffee and chocolate lovers can live Bird Friendly while indulging in their favorite treats."

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This is the only certification that guarantees 100% of the cocoa produced comes from farms that conserve birds and other wildlife by protecting forests and native shade trees. 

Globally, most cocoa is grown in monocultures that destroy forests and remove native trees. While this potentially increases the amount of cocoa produced, it destroys vital habitats and often requires environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers.

Instead of clearing rainforests to plant cocoa trees, Bird Friendly certified cocoa trees are grown under and alongside the shade of native trees that provide food and shelter to migratory birds and tropical wildlife.

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"Our research shows cocoa production can conserve migratory birds and resident tropical birds and benefit farmers," says Ruth Bennett, Ph.D, research ecologist for NZCBI. "An incredibly committed group of passionate growers and chocolatiers partnered with us to pilot our program, and I’m looking forward to working with more farms and companies to certify their cocoa supply and chocolate products as Smithsonian Bird Friendly."

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To become Bird Friendly certified, third-party auditors, trained by Smithsonian researchers, perform on-farm inspections, assessing against the certification’s standards. Inspectors evaluate for criteria such as having 11 tree species per hectare and 30–40% canopy cover.

Farms must also have organic certification to qualify for Bird Friendly certification to ensure that harmful pesticides do not impact consumers, farmers or biodiversity. If all criteria are met, the auditor issues Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification, and the cocoa can be traded as a certified crop. Zorzal Cacao marks the first-ever Bird Friendly certified cocoa farming collective.

For companies to use the Bird Friendly label on chocolate goods, they must sign a licensing agreement with the Smithsonian and agree not to mix any non-certified cocoa into the chocolate product. This guarantees that 100% of the cocoa in a Bird Friendly chocolate product comes from farms that conserve wildlife habitat. Royalties collected by the Bird Friendly program are reinvested in the certification’s research and conservation work.

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Three craft chocolatiers are the first participants in the Smithsonian Bird Friendly certified chocolate program.

Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, Dandelion Chocolate has crafted small-batch, bean-to-bar dark chocolate for over 10 years. Dandelion Chocolate builds lasting relationships with its cocoa producers and aims to highlight distinctive cocoa bean flavors within their products.

Located in Brooklyn, New York, Raaka Chocolate makes certified organic chocolate from scratch in small batches using unroasted cocoa beans and single-origin cacao. Raaka sources cacao directly from single-estate farms, farmer-owned cooperatives and grower-centered organizations.

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, French Broad Chocolates is a certified B Corporation and is deeply committed to sustainability. French Broad Chocolates Bird Friendly chocolate will be available for purchase in the coming months.

Learn more here.