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Cocoa and Chocolate is a favorite among us all. It’s cold outside and well hot cocoa or a chocolate products are a winners, across most ages.

Let’s cut to the chase chocolate is a big seller and a huge business. The last sales figures, from 2015, was chocolate sales were $101 billion, with an estimated use of 7.7 million tons used in 2018/2019 and growing. But theres a problem and it’s industry wide.

Apparently starting in 2014 the As you Sow  group, a non-profit organization using shareholder advocacy to promote environmental and social corporate responsibility, started testing samples of chocolate for heavy metals. They focused on both lead and cadmium, two of the highly toxic metals that should not be ingested, especially if your pregnant or a youngster.


A quick primer on why the small amounts of either toxin counts. Unlike many toxic materials these two accumulate in our system and are very difficult to excrete. So what happens over time and with a small intake regularly…. results in a toxic load for the body.

Lead is a neurotoxin meaning that it interferes with your nervous systems formation and function.  Lead can cause severe damage to the brain and kidneys, creates learning disabilities, seizures, and results in lower IQ’s. In a child’s developing brain, lead interferes with synapse formation in the cerebral cortexneurochemical development (including that of neurotransmitters), and the organization of ion channels. Early childhood exposure has been linked with an increased risk of sleep disturbances and excessive daytime drowsiness in later childhood. High blood levels are associated with delayed puberty in girls. There is no safe level of lead and that’s universally accepted.

Cadmium has no known function in humans. Cadmium is classified as a human carcinogen [Group 1 – according to International Agency for Research on Cancer; Group 2a – according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and 1B carcinogen classified by European Chemical Agency . This toxin causes reproductive harm along with damage to the kidney, liver, and bones, while also impairing neurobehavioral development. The kidney damage inflicted by cadmium poisoning is irreversible.

Back to the Chocolate:

The findings, after looking at more than 120 samples, were really concerning as the majority of products checked failed the grade…..and your probably wondering is my brand on the list.

They looked at a wide variety of manufacturers and found, “Based on the results of our testing, which found 96 of the 127 chocolate products tested contain lead and/or cadmium above California’s MADLs,  (Maximal Allowable Dose Level) 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.”

The group took the companies to task and “In 2018, our legal efforts culminated in a first-of-its-kind settlement with the world’s largest chocolate companies. In partnership with As You Sow, 31 chocolate companies, including Cargill, Hershey, Mars, and Nestle, have committed to funding an independent expert committee to investigate the sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate, find feasible measures to lower levels of these metals, and evaluate and recommend the lead and cadmium concentration levels in chocolate that trigger Proposition 65 warnings.

” The actual settlement agreement includes:  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. The Superior Court also authorized an “opt-in” program that will enable additional companies that make or offer chocolate products for sale in California to become additional parties to the settlement if they are willing to comply with the terms of the settlement.

However, there is some very concerning wording.” committed to funding an independent expert committee to investigate…..” I’m sorry but my suspicions are forward when these companies already knew, for 4 years, that their products were tainted with poison toxins and now their finally going to look into the problem to avoid a Prop65 warning ? For those of you in the legal profession reading the settlement is really worrisome. Is this going to be another long drawn out affair with little resolution ?

And not to throw a wet towel into the fray but the FDA found that,  “Dark chocolate samples tended to have higher lead levels than milk chocolate samples because chocolate liquor is the principal source of lead in chocolate products, and dark chocolate products contain higher amounts of chocolate liquor than milk chocolate products.”

And on to Cocoa:

In many recent health blogs and videos the suggestion is to use cacao instead of chocolate to benefit from the higher polyphenols (good natural chemicals) and decrease your intake of both the fat and sugar content. On the mark suggestions if your only focused on the beneficial chemicals.  However if your thinking of using cocoa for it’s super food qualities, you may want to reconsider or pick a brand carefully. 

The Forensic Food Lab did a deep dive into cocoa products and sure enough the levels of toxic metals is REALLY concerning. Their evaluation included arsenic, which was found in all samples and other toxins with reveling results.

Now the good news is that not all brands were as bad. Check out all the ratings at the bottom of the Forensic Food page. Three brands made the A grade, with limited toxins.

3  Safer Options:

Peruvian Cacao Nibs (Essential Living Foods)Balinese Cacao Nibs (Earth Circle Organics) 100% Organic Cacao Nibs (Health Ranger Select) (This is a brand from the creator of the Forensic Food lab)

 Action Steps: So whats a consumer to do ?

Check out the two lists and see what you have in your pantry.

If the product is high in toxins, bring it back to the store you purchased it from and ask that they not carry tainted items. Show them the listings.

You can make a difference by contacting your favorite chocolate/cocoa companies and asking for a change and getting an update on their participation.

If they are not on the list of those already taking part, ask them to opt-in.

Want to get more involved ? Contact Cyrus Nemati at: AS YOU SOW

Or perhaps want to get the industries contact person a call, Christopher Gindlesperger  NATIONAL CONFECTIONERS ASSOCIATION 
202-203-9006;  or see their take on the settlement.