While a number of studies have shown a connection between dark chocolate and heavy metals cadmium and lead, a new report by Consumer Reports has shed more light on the issue. In its research, the organization measured levels of heavy metals in 28 different dark chocolate products and detected cadmium and lead in all of them. The tested products included chocolate from Hershey’s, Theo, Trader Joe’s and other popular brands.
Too many as these two heavy metals have been linked to several health problems for both children and adults and the FDA notes that lead is toxic to humans and can affect people of any age or health status—though it is most problematic to children and pregnant women. By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to implement controls to significantly minimize or prevent exposure to chemical hazards, lead included.
In January, Mars Inc. was hit with a proposed class action in New York federal court accusing the confectionery giant of failing to disclose lead and cadmium in several of its dark chocolate bars. A similar claim was made against The Hershey Co., which is facing a suit of its own.
In the latter case, the class action was brought by Christopher Lazazzaro, who cited the Consumer Reports study in the court documents, which tested a trio of Hershey’s dark chocolate bars—Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, and Lily’s Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa—and found them all to contain the heavy metals. The lawsuit is seeking $5 million from Hershey’s, claiming the chocolate giant’s advertising and marketing campaign for the dark chocolate bars were “false, deceptive, and misleading” since the labels said nothing about containing lead and cadmium.
A week after the suit against Hershey’s was filed, a similar one against Trader Joe’s came about, with the plaintiff saying that the company failed to disclose that the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao and Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao both contain lead and cadmium.
Still, the National Confectioners Association (NCA), which represents most of the major chocolate companies, claims that the levels found are not dangerous. In 2019, NCA partnered with As You Sow, an organization that pushes for corporate accountability, on a three-year study on the main sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate products and what can be done to lower the amounts. This came about after a 2018 settlement between As You Sow and 32 members of the confectionery industry. “Cadmium and lead are present in cocoa and chocolate due to the soil,” says Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesperson for NCA. “The products cited in this study are in compliance 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 [with As You Sow].”