Heavy Metals in Dark Chocolate

Heavy Metals in Dark Chocolate

Based on a consumer report dated December 15th, 2022

What is the issue?

Potentially harmful amounts of heavy metals lead and cadmium have been found in 28 popular dark chocolate brands, states a report released in December by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports based their study on California’s standards for daily intake, which are stricter than those recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA has not issued a recall.

What products are affected?

The study was limited to 28 bars of dark chocolate, all 28 had measurable levels of lead and/or cadmium and 23 bars had levels that could be harmful for an adult to ingest more than 1 oz. of daily. The following is a summary of brands the co-op carries.

Products found to be higher in cadmium
Equal Exchange Organic Extra Dark Chocolate 80%
Equal Exchange Organic Extra Dark Chocolate FT 80%
Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate Classic Blackout 85%
Pascha Organic Very Dark Chocolate 85%
Products found to be higher in lead
Tony’s Chocolonely Dark Chocolate 70%
Tony’s Chocolonely Extra Dark Chocolate 70%
Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70%
Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate 70%
Endangered Species Bold + Silky Dark Chocolate 72%
Hu Organic Simple Dark Chocolate 70%
Products found to be higher in lead and cadmium
Theo Organic Pure Dark 70% Cocoa
Theo Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
What are lead and cadmium and where do they come from?

Lead and cadmium are members of a group of naturally occurring minerals commonly called “heavy metals.” Although these metals are naturally found in our environment, industrial activity has increased the levels present in the air, water and soil, turning them into persistent environmental contaminants accumulating in our food supply. The research in this case shows that cacao trees take up cadmium from the soil through their roots, and lead contamination happens when wet cacao beans are laid out to dry. Airborne lead from soil and air pollution settle on the beans before processing.

What are the risks from exposure to lead and cadmium?

While heavy metals are harmful for all people, pregnant people and young children are at greater risk for brain development issues. People of all ages who are regularly exposed to lead are at greater risk for nervous systems problems, reproductive issues, kidney damage, immune system suppression and kidney damage.

Why are these products still on the shelf/is there a recall?

FDA has not issued a recall of these products. Our co-op strives to create transparency with this issue. As a consumer, you have the right to decide if the risk is something you are comfortable with. Until the FDA issues a recall, we will continue to carry these products.

Are there any safer alternatives?

Consumer Reports recommends that until the cacao industry takes needed steps to reduce heavy metal contamination, there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure.

  • Try chocolates with lower cacao percentages. Since the heavy metal content is present in cocoa solids, lower percentages mean less heavy metal exposure.
  • Don’t give kids much dark chocolate and limit your intake if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • Eat a varied diet. Foods that are higher in calcium and iron can offset some of the harmful effects of heavy metals.
  • If you prefer brands that tested higher in heavy metals, adults can still enjoy them as an occasional treat. The risk comes from frequent consumption over a long period of time.
How can concerned customers take action?

In addition to contacting chocolate companies with their concerns directly, you can suggest customers contact their U.S. Representative and Senators and specifically ask them to:

  • Strengthen regulations related to heavy metals and increase testing for heavy metals in our food, including chocolate.
  • Require manufacturers to report levels of toxic heavy metals on labels.
  • Express support for federal policies that strengthen environmental regulations prohibiting companies from using processes and products that increase the level of these persistent environmental contaminants (and many others) in our environment and ultimately, our food supply.

Consumers can also consider supporting organizations that assist with environmental cleanup and remediation internationally, particularly in chocolate growing regions. Children in chocolate growing regions are exposed to lead directly through polluted soil, water, and air.