U.S – Consumer Reports, an American nonprofit consumer organization dedicated to independent product testing, has found high levels of lead and cadmium in some of the popular dark chocolate brands.
For years, studies have suggested that dark chocolate can boost emotions, reduce inflammation, and even increase blood flow.
Consumer Reports conducted a lead and cadmium test on 28 dark chocolate bars, including those from Dove, Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Hershey’s.
According to the publication, just one ounce of chocolate from 23 of those bars exceeds California’s maximum allowed dose levels (MADL), which are 0.5 micrograms and 4.1 micrograms per day, respectively, for lead or cadmium.
The usual chocolate bar weighs somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 ounces.
The restrictions imposed by California’s Proposition 65 are some of the most protective in the nation, says the organization.
For children, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends a daily lead intake of 2.2 micrograms, and for women of reproductive age, 8.8 micrograms.
As examples cited by Consumer Reports, an ounce of Lindt’s Excellence Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa or Dove’s Promises Deeper Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao exceeds the acceptable cadmium levels, while an ounce of Godiva’s Signature Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao or Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate exceeds the acceptable lead levels.
Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao had higher levels of both lead and cadmium than California’s limitations. Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2018, the National Confectioners Association and As You Sow, a nonprofit that supports the enforcement of Proposition 65, reached a settlement. The association represents chocolate producers like Hershey’s, Lindt, and Godiva.
The settlement established lead and cadmium concentration levels that, if exceeded, call for warning labels.
According to the group, the industry has observed the levels outlined by the settlement.
“The products cited in this study comply 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,” Association Spokesperson Christopher Gindlesperger said.
Johns Hopkins Medicine toxicologist Andrew Stolbach told NPR that MADLs are set to be “very conservative” to account for people with higher risk due to their age and other medical conditions.
According to him, when chocolate is consumed in moderate amounts, the lead and cadmium levels are nothing to worry about.
“The safety levels for lead and cadmium are set to be very protective, and going above them by a modest amount isn’t something to be concerned about.
“If you make sure that the rest of your diet is good and sufficient in calcium and iron, you protect yourself even more by preventing the absorption of some lead and cadmium in your diet,” he said.
Severe exposure to lead can disrupt children’s growth and development and their brains and nervous systems, whereas significant exposure to cadmium can lead to lung cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive disorders.
However, the Consumer Reports testing showed that it is also possible for dark chocolate bars to maintain low levels of heavy metals because five of the 28 bars had lead and cadmium levels that were within California’s allowable limits.
In order to comply with the terms of the settlement, both the confectioners association and As You Sow, an organization that supports corporate social responsibility, had to conduct a multiyear study to identify the main reasons why there were heavy metals in chocolate and ways to lower their levels.
In August, a report summarizing the results of a three-year investigation was published.
According to the study, cadmium naturally occurs in soil and is immediately transferred by the cocoa tree to cocoa beans.
After harvest, when wet cocoa beans are exposed to dirt and dust during the drying, fermenting, and transport processes, lead contamination happens.
“The industry should communicate to farmers the value of implementing Better Agricultural Practices related to reducing wet cocoa bean contact with soil during fermentation and drying.
“Drying wet beans in direct contact with the ground, road surfaces, and concrete patios should be discontinued as a farmer controllable Pb (lead) reduction activity,” wrote Timothy Ahn, co-author of the report who manages food safety at Lloyd’s Register.
Per the co-author and toxicologist Michael DiBartolomeis, reducing wet cocoa bean contact with soil and dust can reduce the amount of lead in chocolate by 10% to more than 25%.
In accordance with the As You Sow report, combining high cadmium content cocoa beans with those with lower levels, locating contamination hotspots, and carrying out more thorough testing are further approaches to lessen heavy metal levels.