What's in a chocolate bar?


That which we call cocoa, by any other name would smell as sweet, but the same can’t be said for lead and cadmium. While dark chocolate is often marketed as healthful because it contains antioxidants, it also frequently contains lead and cadmium, an attribute not marketed to consumers. You’d be amazed at what a little sugar can cover up.

This week, however, we’re taking steps with some of the largest chocolate companies in the world to get the lead and cadmium out of chocolate. Barry Callebaut (USA), Blommer Chocolate Co., Cargill, Inc., Guittard Chocolate Co., The Hershey Company, Lindt & Sprungli (North America), Mars Incorporated, Mondelez Global LLC, and Nestle USA, Inc, have all committed to investigating sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate and setting goals for lowering levels of these elements.

This is a big step. We know that no one sets out to include metals of any sort in chocolate, but when dangerous metals are found in our comfort food, manufacturers owe it to us to be transparent about it.

The State of California requires manufacturers to provide warnings on products that may endanger consumer health, and heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are known to cause reproductive and/or developmental harm.

California’s Proposition 65 mandates that consumers receive a warning when chemicals listed as reproductive toxins -- such as lead and cadmium -- are present at harmful levels within a product. Thanks to the settlement reached this week, we’ve brought some of the largest members of the National Confectioners Association on a pathway to transparency, and eventually, safer, more appealing product lines. After all, the last thing you want to do when eating chocolate is worry about whether you and your family are eating metals with their chocolate.

We’ve been monitoring lead and cadmium in chocolates for years at As You Sow, a tough job with the amount of chocolate out there. It can be disappointing to find out that your favorite chocolate bar might not be good to eat, but that’s a choice we believe consumers need to be able to make for themselves. With your support, we’ve been able to test lead and cadmium levels in over 120 chocolate products, make that information public, and seek action from the chocolate makers. That work has proven successful and we are now entering a new era of action by the National Confectioners Association.  

We’ve always promoted transparency as the first step to better products and services for consumers, and for the planet. If you have a choice between a chocolate bar with lead and cadmium and one without, which one would you choose? Chocolate companies know you’re more likely to buy a chocolate bar if it is free of heavy metals. We fully anticipate that our list of chocolates containing lead and cadmium is going to get smaller and smaller in the next few years, and through a strong partnership with the world’s biggest chocolate makers, we hope we can eliminate it completely.

Our biggest partner, however, is you, the consumer. Whether through your buying choices, using our resources, or supporting our Proposition 65 work, you’re helping us to ensure cleaner foods and guide chocolate companies toward better, worry-free products.