- Consumer Reports found "concerning" levels of lead, cadmium, or both in 16 out of 48 chocolate products it tested, the advocacy group said in a report. It specifically called out Hershey to reduce the amount of heavy metals in its products.
- CR tested products in seven categories: cocoa powder, chocolate chips, milk chocolate bars, mixes for brownies, chocolate cake and hot chocolate. The review found high levels of lead in cocoa powder from Hershey's and Droste, semi-sweet chocolate chips from Target, and hot chocolate from Walmart, Starbucks and Nestlé.
- The report noted that its tests found milk chocolate bars, which have less cocoa solids, did not contain excessive metal content.
The discovery of heavy metals in chocolate has been going on for nearly a decade after As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group, brought the issue into the forefront in 2014.
The discovery led to a settlement in which candy companies and the National Confectioners Association worked with As You Sow on a study to investigate and identify how the heavy metals got into products and come up with feasible ways for the sweets manufacturers to reduce contamination.
But Consumer Reports noted that some confectioners are doing a better job of keeping metals out of their products than others. It called out Hershey, as a "leading and popular brand" to commit to making its chocolate safer. The nonprofit group launched a consumer petition to get Hershey to commit to reducing the levels of heavy metals in its products.
"Earlier this year, a Hershey executive stated that the company continues to look for ways to remove more of the metals through additional cleaning and alternate sourcing,” Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at CR, said in the report. “We would like for them to honor that commitment."
In an email to Food Dive, Hershey said its “highest priority is the safety and quality of our products” and that it complies with “all applicable laws and regulations.” It added that because cadmium and lead are part of the environment their presence in various foods cannot be entirely avoided.
“We work closely with our suppliers to minimize their presence in our products,” Hershey said.
In a broad statement following the release of the report, the National Confectioners Association said “chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries.”
Consistent and long-term exposure to heavy metals has been linked to several health problems, including nervous system and immune system problems, hypertension, kidney damage and reproductive issues. For young children and fetuses in pregnant people, the exposure can lead to developmental problems.
The Food and Drug Administration told Consumer Reports that “while the presence of cadmium and lead in chocolate has been the subject of considerable media attention, experts from around the world have found that chocolate is a minor source of exposure to these contaminants internationally.”
Ronholm said even though metals occur naturally in soil, there are steps chocolate companies can take to make their products safer. These include sourcing from areas with lower levels of the metals and mixing beans from different areas. Producers could also test cocoa and reject lots from areas that are especially problematic.
The latest findings from Consumer Reports are unlikely to have any meaningful impact on large confectionary companies, at least in the near term, unless consumer pressure intensifies. The companies have already made a commitment to reduce the levels of heavy metal in their products through the court settlement.