Chocolate Report Released regarding Lead and Cadmium
Tuesday, October 4, 2022
  • As You Sow and the National Confectioners Association released a report on August 18, 2022 that determines the predominant sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate products and how best to reduce these levels.  A multi-disciplinary panel of four experts have been investigating the matter for three years.  The report is part of the 2018 settlement agreement reached in As You Sow v. Trader Joe’s, in which the plaintiff alleged that numerous chocolate makers failed to warn the public about levels of lead and cadmium in their products, therefore violating California’s Proposition 65.

  • The report concludes that cadmium can be found in cacao and chocolate due to its presence in tropical soils where it is harvested.  Cadmium contaminates the roots of the plant, where it is then deposited into the nibs of the cacao beans.  The experts concluded a short term solution would be to mix high and low-cadmium cacao beans, whereas long-term reductions could be achieved by changing soil compositions or cacao genetics.

  • The investigation found that lead contaminates the outer shells of the cacao beans, rather than through the roots.  The sticky coating of the outer shells allows lead particles from soil, dust, and power plant air pollution to stick to the cacao beans as they are dried and fermented in open air.  The investigation revealed that, where feasible, minimizing soil contact and optimizing contaminant removal during the cleaning, roasting, and shell removal stages should help reduce lead contamination.

  • In the 2018 settlement, the parties agreed on new threshold levels of lead and cadmium that would trigger product warnings, based on cacao content: products with up to 65% cacao content (0.065 ppm and 0.320 ppm, respectively); products with between 65% and 95% cacao content (0.1 ppm and 0.4 ppm); and products with greater than 95% cacao content (0.2 ppm and 0.8 ppm).  Based on their findings, the experts could not reach an agreement whether it is feasible to lower the agreed upon lead and cadmium thresholds in chocolate.  All experts agreed that the trigger levels for lead were feasible to comply with and that it would be feasible to have a lower standard, but they disagreed with how low a level is feasible.  The majority of the four experts concluded it is not feasible to lower the cadmium thresholds.  Moving forward, the parties will meet to discuss whether or not to change the threshold levels for lead and cadmium put forth in the settlement.  Any party can file a motion with the court to request a change and, if approved, the change would take effect one year later.  If no motions to change threshold levels are made, the levels decided in the settlement will remain in place.


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