NCA-backed study proposes action tackling cadmium and lead in chocolate and cocoa
A key new report from environmental non-profit group As You Sow and the National Confectioners Association has put forward proposals to help reduce levels of lead and cadmium found in cocoa and chocolate, reports Neill Barston.
The study’s results were based on analysis from a cross-industry panel of four experts, with funding for its work delivered through a California Proposition 65 settlement reached with a total of 32 confectionery sector companies in 2018.
As the National Confectioners Association noted, ensuring food safety and product quality sit atop its core priorities with the US industry trade body and its members focused on delivering continuous improvement on all areas of production.
Consequently, the engagement with As You Sow has proved pivotal, given the organisation’s central mission of promoting environmental and social corporate responsibility through collaborative work, including its health programmes promotes sustainable food, agriculture, and consumer products.
Notably, the report has recommended a series of actions and priorities for the industry to consider implementing – which it believe would deliver tangible results within a year of implementation. For cadmium, actions beyond those achieved through blending and potential changes in farming practices, include soil treatment and planting new tree stock, and are anticipated to take longer to deliver results.
Moreover, the National Confectioners Association said that industry members plan to continue to work with As You Sow, cocoa farmers, scientists, and their own quality teams to further reduce cadmium and lead levels in chocolate products as feasible.
As Confectionery Production has previously noted, the issue of levels of cadmium and lead within confectionery production has been raised in recent years, including previously at the European Cocoa Association forum, where members expressed concern at how potential legislation from the EU on the issue would impact on the sector.
In addition, the latest collaborative cadmium and lead report from As You Sow explained that cadmium can be found in cocoa and chocolate due to its presence in soils, either through natural or man-made sources, where cocoa is cultivated and harvested in the tropics.
Significantly, it acknowledged that cocoa plants take up cadmium from soils via their roots and deposit it in the nibs (centre) of cocoa beans, and as a result of this, reducing cadmium levels without compromising taste characteristics will require blending low and high cadmium beans in the short-term, and changes to soil composition or cocoa genetics over time, especially in the Latin America and Caribbean regions where fine flavoured cocoa is grown and cadmium levels in soils tend to be higher.
According to the report, by contrast, lead is not taken up through the roots of cocoa plants. Instead, lead from many sources including soil, dust, and deposition from power plants around the world, adheres to the outer shells of cocoa beans after they are extracted from the pods.
Furthermore, it added that beans are naturally coated with a sticky cacao pulp known as “baba” or “mucilage” which allows lead to cling to the beans while they are being fermented and dried in the open in the tropical countries where they are grown. The experts found that, where feasible, minimising soil contact and the potential for aerial deposition at these stages of the harvesting process, and optimising contaminant removal during subsequent bean cleaning, roasting, and shell removal (as many chocolate manufacturers already do), should help reduce lead levels in finished products.
“The research completed by this expert committee is important in revealing feasible methods of reducing both lead and cadmium in finished chocolate products,” said Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at As You Sow.
“We appreciate the collaborative approach of the chocolate industry in funding this three-year study. It shows how California’s Toxic Enforcement Act can lead to positive change. We look forward to working with industry to set lower cadmium and lead levels as we move into the implementation phase of this work.”
Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs & communications at the National Confectioners Association, welcomed the study and its recommendations.
He said: “NCA and its members in the chocolate industry welcome the report resulting from the expert committee investigation they funded through a prior California Proposition 65 settlement with As You Sow. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to implement feasible measures that assure product quality and safety so that consumers can continue to enjoy chocolate as a delicious treat.”