Consumer Reports group renews calls on industry to reduce cadmium levels in dark chocolate

US non-profit organisation, Consumer Reports, has written to four confectionery manufacturers including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondelez and Theo, urging them to reduce levels of cadmium in dark chocolate bars, ahead of Valentine’s Day celebrations, writes Neill Barston.

As previously reported, the group conducted a high profile study of the sector in America, and according to its results, it found more than 20 products that it alleged had high levels of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead, which the sector has moved to ally concerns over, stating that the industry complies with strict safety requirements.

Notably, the Consumer Report joint letter to industry has reportedly been accompanied by nearly 55,000 petition signatures from concerned consumers in the wake of the Consumer Reports studies.

These used a methodology for tests on dark chocolate used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead (0.5 micrograms) and cadmium (4.1mcg), and claimed that a number of brands registered high levels of lead, posing further contamination risks.

However, the National Confectioners Association has responded to the allegations, stating that such scales do not represent nationally recognised health guidelines for consumers. Sector observers have noted that the findings of Consumer Reports had failed to address the fact heavy metals are present within in a number of other general food groups.

In its letter to the industry, Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, noted: “Consumers are troubled that many of their favourite dark chocolate bars contain high levels of heavy metals. Many choose to eat dark chocolate because of its potential health benefits and relatively low levels of sugar. But there’s nothing healthy about ingesting heavy metals.”

Consumer Reports scientists measured the amount of heavy metals in 28 dark chocolate bars and detected cadmium and lead in all of them. For 23 of the bars, eating just one ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health authorities and CR’s experts say may be harmful for at least one of those heavy metals.

Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% cacao; Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% cocoa (owned by Hershey’s); Theo Organic Pure Dark Chocolate 70% cocoa; Theo Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate 85% cocoa; and Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% cacao (owned by Mondelez).

According to Consumer Reports, it claimed that long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to health problems, in particular for pregnant people and young children because the metals can, it asserted, cause developmental problems.

It added that frequent exposure to lead in adults, for example, can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. The group concluded that 15 of consumers presently eat chocolate every day, according to Mintel research. Consumer Reports added that lead can be found in many other foods – such as sweet potatoes, spinach, and carrots – and small amounts from multiple sources, asserting that sustained low level volumes can potentially causing health issues.

Sector response

In response, the National Confectioners Association moved to respond further on the issue, noting that its members fully complied with national safety standards surrounding chocolate. Furthermore, it cited a new report that it has jointly authored with the As You Sow organisation, which put forward recommendations to industry recently, to improve cocoa processing to mitigate against cadmium levels.

This includes promoting actions including crop blending and potential changes in farming practices, soil treatment and planting new tree stock as combined strategies to minimise the issue. In addition, the NCA said it would 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.

In a statement in response to the Consumer Reports studies, the NCA said: “Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) guidelines cited in the Consumer Reports study are not food safety standards. An expert investigation conducted through our prior California Proposition 65 settlement concluded that cadmium and lead are present in cocoa and chocolate due to soil and that bean cleaning during processing cocoa beans reduces lead and cadmium in chocolate products. The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements, and the levels provided to us by Consumer Reports testing are well under the limits established by our settlement. Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.”



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