This story is over 5 years old.

Is Your Valentine's Day Chocolate Laced with Lead?

California-based consumer watchdog organization As You Sow has accused several big-name candy companies of manufacturing products that contain high levels of lead and cadmium. Chew on that while you're sucking on your truffles today.
Photo via Flickr user hinnosaar

So maybe a chocolate anus isn't for you. Fair 'nuff.

But what would Valentine's Day be without a sampler of chocolate bonbons filled with nougat, caramel, and those syrupy cherry cordials that only Grandma likes? Off to the mall with you, and don't forget the talking teddy bear, too.

But what could make V-Day even more special? How about some chocolates laced with heavy metals? And we don't mean Danzig.


California-based consumer watchdog organization As You Sow has recently accused several big-name candy companies of manufacturing products that contain high levels of lead and cadmium.

The group tested 42 different chocolate products from 16 different brands and found that 26 of them "contain lead and/or cadmium at levels in which one serving exceeds the California safe harbor level for reproductive harm."

Cadmium exposure has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage, while the neurological effects of lead exposure—even at very low levels—are well known. California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires that consumer products that contain even small amounts of toxic substances include a clear and reasonable warning.

As You Sow subsequently filed notices with each companies, asking that they remove the heavy metals from products, or at least place warnings on their packaging. The products in question come from both major players in confectionary—Hershey's, See's, Mars, and Mondelez among them—as well as boutique brands like Vosges and Theo. As You Sow's complete list is here.

Not every product from a given manufacturer tested positive for the metals. Ghirardelli, for example, had two products that should feature a warning, according to As You Sow's report, and one product that shouldn't. Ghirardelli did not respond to our request for comment at press time.

At least one chocolate maker, however, is saying that there's no cause for alarm. "All Hershey products meet all FDA and state standards, and our cocoa powder and chocolate are safe to eat," Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications for Hershey, told the Washington Post. "This includes the very strict Proposition 65 standards for lead and cadmium in candy and other products."

The Washington Post also spoke to Susan Smith, senior vice president of communications and outreach at the National Confectioners Association. "Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are naturally-occurring elements found in the Earth's crust," Smith told the paper. "Since these elements are present naturally in the soil and water where plants are grown, there are unavoidable traces occurring in virtually all foods, including fish, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables."

But As You Sow claims that any amount of lead in food is potentially dangerous, as it accumulates in the body over time, and children are especially susceptible. And the levels of metals found in As You So's tests aren't so small after all: Some of the products reportedly contained up to 5.9 times the daily intake of lead prescribed by California's "safe harbor level," and 8.2 times the limit of cadmium.

"Nobody expects heavy metals in their chocolate," said As You Sow CEO Andrew Behar in a press release. "By issuing these notices, we hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce heavy metals in their products through sound supply chain practices, or provide warnings so consumers can make their own choices about whether to consume the products."