Chocolate – Lead & Cadmium Contamination
April 18, 2016
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According to the consumer health watchdog As You Sow, there’s a good chance that chocolate you buy may contain lead or cadmium. Lab test results obtained by the group examined 42 products, 26 of which contained lead and/or cadmium at levels above what the state of California considers safe. The brands that tested positive for heavy metals included Hershey’s, Mars, Ghiradhelli, Godiva, See’s, Lindt, Whole Foods, and Green and Black’s.
Some of the chocolate tested contained lead at levels up to 5.9 times California’s “safe harbor” level—or the maximum allowable daily limit—for reproductive harm, and found cadmium at levels up to 8.2 times the limit.
“No one expects heavy metals in their chocolate,” said Eleanne van Vliet, As You Sow’s director of toxic chemicals research. “We hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to remove heavy metals from their products,” said As You Sow president Danielle Fugere.
Lead is well known to cause neurological damage, particularly in children. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered what it considers “elevated lead exposure” for children from 10 to 5 parts per million. What this amounts to, says Boston University School of Medicine professor of pediatrics and public health Sean Palfrey, is that “No amount of lead ingestion is safe for children.” What’s more, “lead exposure is cumulative”—it builds up in the body—explains Bruce Lanphear, Faculty of Health Sciences professor at Simon Fraser University.
Research into lead and cadmium contamination of chocolate and cocoa dates back at least 10 to 15 years. Studies have found these metals in chocolate purchased all around the world. A survey by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published in 2000 found milk chocolate bars to have the fourth highest lead concentration of all the food it tested.
How do these heavy metals get into chocolate? Scientists point to environmental contamination, primarily of soil, as a likely culprit. But air pollution may also be a factor as cacao beans are often dried outdoors. A 2005 study found high levels of lead in chocolate sourced from Nigeria.