OVER the next month, some 30 million selection boxes will be sold in this country. But as the peak chocolate-consuming season approaches, the Gastropod has been perusing a worthy and worrying book published by the Women's Environmental Health Network. Cat Cox's Chocolate Unwrapped, subtitled The Politics of Pleasure, is an expose of the chocolate industry, which is dominated by three multinational corporations.

On the evidence presented by Ms Cox, the big three don't seem to be too concerned with the welfare of the Third World citizens who do the donkey work of cocoa picking; nor about wasting the earth's precious resources with their fancy packaging. More heinously, their heavily advertised products contain only small amounts of real chocolate; the rest is made up of vegetable fats and refined sugar, not to mention the artificial colourings, anti-oxidants and emulsifiers.

The book costs pounds 8.99. It makes tortuous reading, but the arguments are neatly summarised in a free leaflet entitled Chocolate, Women and the Environment. Send an sae to: WEN, Aberdeen Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA.

ONE woman who loves chocolate and cares deeply about environmental issues is Josephine Fairley. When this alluring and fun-loving journalist encountered the wholefood guru Craig Sams she was seduced by his private stock of an exotic chocolate that is rich, dark and very high in cocoa solids.

Now Jo imports Green & Black's organic chocolate, which has won an Ethical Product Award. Her photograph adorns the publicity material explaining why it is better for you than any other brand.

Green & Black's original dark chocolate is available in supermarkets at pounds 1.89 for a bar weighing 100g. If you have trouble finding it, chocolate freaks advise an encounter with Waitrose Continental plain chocolate, which is reported to have a cocoa solids content of 72 per cent and costs only 62p for 100g bar.

THERE'S no need to ask Tesco if it tests chocolate, or anything else, for pesticide residues; the Gastropod can assure you that it most certainly does. Last Monday the Minister of Agriculture, Gillian Shephard, formally opened the Tesco Technical Centre and the 'Pod dutifully trekked out to Tesco Town (Cheshunt, Herts) to view this multimillion-pound marvel of the modern world.

Purpose-built, climatically controlled and well stocked with sensitive instruments, Tesco boasts proudly that this new facility is the state of the art in product testing. Quite apart from the rooms full of continuously churning washing machines and apparatuses simulating the effects of years of sunshine or rain, the 'Pod was most impressed by a succession of white-coated technicians who demonstrated some standard procedures.

Downstairs in the microbiology section we learnt how quickly the listeria bacterium can now be indentified, should an outbreak of food poisoning occur, and were introduced to its transatlantic cousin, snappily entitled E coli 0157. The microbe being hailed as 'the new listeria' typically crops up in undercooked burgers and has caused many upset tummies in America.

Over here, the pesky blighter has been seen only a couple of times (never in a Tesco product), but forewarned is forearmed.

Upstairs, in the chemistry lab, the Gastropod admired the complicated gas chromatography used to ensure that orange juice hasn't been adulterated, and tried to follow the explanation of how some white tablets that turned up in a blackcurrant tart were identified.

They turned out to be Canderel sweeteners, presumably dropped into the fruit mix by some dolt at the factory.

ANOTHER insight into modern supermarketing methods was provided at an extraordinary meeting of the Pudding Club, held as always at the Three Ways Hotel, at Mickleton, in the Cotswolds.

Since 1985, devotees of traditional British steamed puddings have congregated there to gorge themselves on such stodgy delights as sticky toffee pudding. At one meeting, the members of the Pudding Club were joined by an off- duty executive from Safeway, who observed their unbridled enthusiasm for spotted dick with lashings of custard and smelt a marketing opportunity.

Now Safeway has adapted six recipes from the 40-odd in the Pudding Club's repertoire, encouraged a local manufacturer to build a new facility to produce thousands of the things, and is selling them at the introductory price of pounds 1.49.

The six puddings are suitable for vegetarians, come in microwaveable bowls and will serve four normal people, two hungry Gastropods or one averagely greedy official member of the Pudding Club.