If you have a sweet tooth, you may have read studies talking about the health benefits associated with eating moderate amounts of chocolate. But our research has found a potential health risk in popular chocolate products that’s been flying under the radar – many chocolates contain toxic metals like lead and cadmium.
As You Sow has conducted independent laboratory testing of over 120 chocolate products for lead and cadmium. Based on the results of our testing, which found 96 of the 127 chocolate products contain lead and/or cadmium, we filed legal notices with over 20 companies, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondelēz, Lindt, Whole Foods, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli, and Chocolove, for failing to warn consumers that their chocolate products contain cadmium or lead, or both.
No level of lead is safe for children. Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades. Lead is linked to a variety of neurological impairments, including learning disabilities, seizures, and a lower IQ. Developing fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because their brains are in critical growth and development stages.
“As underscored by the Flint disaster, humans have contaminated our environment with lead, and now we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves and our children, who are the most vulnerable of us, from every possible exposure,” said Sean Palfrey, MD, a pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Young children and pregnant women especially should avoid exposure to lead.”
Cadmium is also known to cause reproductive harm. Cadmium can cause damage to the kidney, liver, and bones, while also impairing neurobehavioral development. Children are more susceptible than adults to exposure from low doses of cadmium over time.
California law ensures consumers receive warnings before they are harmed. To protect consumers, companies should take action to remove these toxic heavy metals from their products or, at a minimum, to provide consumers with warnings according to Proposition 65. If the heavy metals are not removed, people need to be informed so they can protect themselves and their families.
In 2018, our legal efforts culminated in a first-of-its-kind settlement with many of the world’s largest chocolate companies. Thirty-one chocolate companies, including 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, committed to funding an independent Expert Committee to investigate the sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate and find feasible measures to lower levels of these metals by 2025. While this work is ongoing, the chocolate companies have also agreed to provide interim warnings for their products if they exceed specified concentrations of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolates. These agreed upon warning levels range from 0.1 ppm to 0.225 ppm for lead and 0.4 ppm cadmium to .960 ppm for cadmium, depending on the percent of cacao contained in the product. These warning levels may be reduced based on the results reached by the Committee.
Meanwhile, consumers can help make a difference by making companies aware that they take this issue seriously. If your favorite manufacturer is on the warning-required list, call, tweet, or otherwise ask them to remove or reduce the heavy metals from their products. Investors should also consider potential risk if they own shares of these companies.
As You Sow commissioned an independent state-certified laboratory to measure levels of lead and cadmium in over 120 chocolate products available at retailers across California. The chart below reflects testing of chocolate that was performed between 2014 and 2018. The colors of the chart indicate whether a serving of the chocolate exposes consumers to lead and/or cadmium above the regulatory Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL), 0.5 µg/day for lead and 4.1 µg/day for cadmium, set by the State of California under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Donations help us test more bars.
NOTE: The MADLs set forth in this chart are levels set by the State of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard for lead and cadmium in consumer products. Exposures to lead below the MADL have been identified as having no observable effect assuming exposure at one thousand (1,000) times the level in question. Defendants in Proposition 65 cases may present their own determination of a MADL based on evidence and standards of comparable scientific validity.
THIS CHART DOES NOT MEAN, AND SHOULD NOT BE UNDERSTOOD TO MEAN, THAT CHOCOLATES WITH LEVELS ABOVE THE MADL ARE IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW. THE CHOCOLATE SETTLEMENT DESCRIBED ABOVE PROVIDES INTERIM CONCENTRATIONS FOR LEAD AND CADMIUM IN CHOCOLATE FOR WHICH WARNINGS ARE LEGALLY REQUIRED.
What Do These Numbers Mean?
"ppm" refers to parts per million, the concentrations of lead and/or cadmium tested in a chocolate product found in a single lab test.
"ug/serving" refers to micrograms per serving, the amount of lead and/or cadmium in a single serving, calculated based on the serving size on the product label.
For more information, see our FAQ on how we test these products.
 27 CCR § 25805, Specific Regulatory Levels: Chemicals Causing Reproductive Toxicity, https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Document/I123F55D0E67C11E2A3BEAE4168993EE1?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)