Lead in our Chocolate: Cleaning up the Food System

Toxic Chocolate

As You Sow’s Lead in Food initiative continues to focus on lead and cadmium in chocolate products.

By Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Counsel

As our nation grapples with entire towns exposed to lead in their drinking water, and experts agree that there is no safe amount for children, As You Sow’s Lead in Food initiative continues to focus on lead and cadmium in chocolate products. We are actively working with chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce the levels of these heavy metals in their products, or provide consumers with warnings. Lead consumption can cause neurological impairment, among other harms, and can impair learning and cause irrational behavior in children. Cadmium can cause damage to the kidney, liver, and bones.  In time for Easter, As You Sow published new testing results, showing that 35 of 50 chocolate products tested contained lead and/or cadmium above the levels set by California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.  We have filed legal notices with 23 manufacturers and/or retailers, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, and Ghirardelli, for failing to warn consumers.

Our goal is to work with chocolate companies to identify sources of heavy metals in their products and to reduce the levels below the legal limit. In our investigation, we have learned that in some countries drying chocolate by the side of a busy roadway can cause heavy metal contamination from airborne diesel fuel exhaust; other sources may include application of pesticides and contaminated processing machinery, containers, and even packaging. If the lead can’t be readily removed, we are asking that manufacturers provide the required warning so that consumers can make their own decisions about how much chocolate to consume.  So far, the industry has been reluctant to take action. In fact, Trader Joe’s, the first company with which we filed a legal complaint, appears willing to litigate rather than provide warnings. We continue settlement discussions and it is our hope that we can work with these chocolate companies to address this ongoing and important problem.