Alarming test results from Consumer Reports in the USA about concerning levels of Cadmium and/or Lead found in dark chocolate.
Not just Hershey’s which is being sued, but brands common in Australia, including chocolate from Dove, Green & Black’s Organic, and Lindt!
Off the menu at our place for now until we find out more. There was also a report on heavy metals in some herbs and spices.
I thought lead in red lipstick was bad enough, but this level of heavy metals in food is outrageous. Especially lead which is already in drinking water and accumulates from a number of different sources.
Welcome to the community @Juli. The news item raises some challenging questions about a treat/food we take mostly for granted. Was it Consumer Reports or are they simply republishing the work of As You Sow?
Looking to “As You Sow” the detailed report references California, USA standards. It’s not immediately apparent how the California requirements compare to Australia’s requirements according to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Or if there is any need for alarm in Australia. It would be reassuring to know more.
If you are looking for the source report I’ve linked it as above. It’s also useful to refer to the monitoring work of FSANZ. Its organisational responsibilities include the capacity and resources to respond to any concerns with imported or local products.
Thank you for the link Mark.
If you see the link I included, CR state that they conducted the tests themselves.
In my view Australian Standards are often lacking. The brass in our taps is a major source of lead in drinking water and has been permitted to be around 5%, whereas overseas it’s 0.25% (deemed “lead free” in Aus.) Not impressed.
It’s the effect on our bodies which concerns me, and the Californian standards for lead in cookware and dinnerware, for example, are ones which good manufacturers around the world including IKEA list as the standard they aim to meet because of its stringency.
I think there is concern for alarm in Australia because these are the same products we’re eating here. We don’t have a domestic production of chocolate (meaning cocoa). They are disturbingly high levels. I suppose when the cocoa is produced in countries without the same food handling standards that’s unsurprising: the report speculates that the lead comes partly from contaminated road dust as the beans are not washed properly.
Welcome to the forum Juli. You bring up an interesting question and one that is rather complex. I am going to summarise some aspects of this to try to provide some context. To keep it simple I am concentrating on one metal lead, but I expect to find a similar situation for others.
The report from Consumer Report (CR) an American independent consumer organisation says:
They tested dark chocolate for several heavy metals and found the cadmium and lead content of some were higher than their chosen standard.
The standard was the maximum daily dose in California for lead of 0.5 μg/day
They warn that this could lead to health problems.
You can read their report to see which chocolates were over their limit.
The background is:
Lead is a well know poison that has been extensively studied. It has both acute and chronic effects and accumulates in the body. The assessment of long term effects is usually examining the relationship between measurable health outcomes and blood level of lead.
There are standards for maximum blood lead levels in most countries that include levels where treatment are indicated to deal with the risk, such as removal of lead by chemical treatment.
The relationship between blood levels of lead and the amount ingested from a given source (like eating chocolate) is not entirely clear. Obviously the more you eat over a period of time the higher your blood level but there is no direct relationship that predicts blood level from consumption. One reason is that we get lead from many sources in the environment not just the food we put in our mouth.
Questions that need an answer:
(1) Was the CR analysis accurate?
(2) Does passing the California daily maximum level mean that you will have dangerous levels of lead in your blood?
Their report on the analysis is here. It would require an expert in the field (which I am not) to say if it was sound, so Q1 remains uncertain.
On the second question, other authorities have other standards. For example the FDA has an interim reference level of 12.5 μg/day, which is one tenth of the level they reckoned would be harmful. They say 250 times the level used by CR is the probable threshold and none of the chocolate examined would fail the test.
FDA has an interim reference level (IRL) of 12.5 μg/day for dietary lead exposure in women of childbearing age.
The IRL corresponds to a blood lead level (BLL) of 0.5 μg/dL.
Epidemiology studies were reviewed to determine if a BLL of 0.5 μg/dL was associated with adverse effects in adults.
No studies clearly identified a BLL of 0.5 μg/dL as an adverse effect level.
The results support use of the 12.5 μg/day IRL for the general population of adults.
Food Standards Australia has standards for contamination but not daily dose and not for chocolate specifically. For example, the max contamination for lead in meat is 0.1 mg/kg. So if you eat 200g of meat daily that would be 0.02 μg/day, which compared to the FDA is very conservative.
So which is right? There is no clear answer but for me I would only be concerned if I was exposed to significant lead in other ways (living at Broken Hill or in an old wooden house near an old main road for instance) and then I would get a blood test to find out. You cannot avoid all toxins in this life, the trick is to avoid doses that will do you significant harm.
Thank you syncretic, you raise some very interesting points. I will offer a quick reply before reading the report.
As you correctly suppose, one heavy metal is often found in company with others, so if one is present we need to gave concerns about more complex health effects.
However, just looking at lead: my special concern with lead is that we take it in from many sources. It is a cumulative neurotoxin and there is no safe dose. It is certainly not necessary to live near a mine to reach concerning intakes of lead.
Thankfully it’s out of the fuel but still contaminates soil by roadsides, and around old houses where lead paint was used. There is also an enormous amount daily in our drinking water from taps and old soldering on copper pipes.
A lot of dinnerware, cookware and old utensils contains lead also, as well as some cooking salt. Very hard to avoid!
I think when a problem becomes as big as this, human nature kicks in and tries to ignore it. Right to the level of government. Their daily intake recommendations SHOULD be zero, medically speaking. As it builds up over the years, a daily intake is a nonsense.
You’re right – we don’t know how much is in someone’s body. You can get an indication from blood levels especially if the exposure is ongoing. But it’s lead in the nervous sysrem that most worries me, and think of the blood-brain barrier. Is the blood level really going to reflect what’s on the brain side, or tell you how long the exposure has gone on? Regrettably people often don’t realise they gave a problem until the irreversible damage starts to show its effects.
I think it’s very serious on the level of asbestos, and am sure the government knows this ever since they decided to change the standards for paints and fuel. Thankfully the standards for taps are being improved in line with the rest of the world this year. Of course all those manky old taps will still be in place! If we can clean up our food we’ll have it mostly sorted. Especially chocolate, which is a food essential
I didn’t suggest that, I concentrated on lead only to keep it short. Long stories (especially with numbers) will not be read much. The details would differ but I would be much amazed if the general line of discussion over cadmium would be any different to lead.
There are threads here on both those topics.
I am not sure about that as a generalisation but it doesn’t matter in practice as it is impossible. The question remains how do you determine a reasonable ceiling level for lead in food, you must do that as zero is not an option.
If by “it” you mean the risks associated generally with lead ingestion, yes. That doesn’t mean plumbing, cookware and chocolate necessarily should be treated the same as paint and petrol unless the evidence is as clear as it was in those cases.
If we agree that the overall levels of lead exposure are the key question then focusing on the sources does not seem helpful to me. Rather if you are concerned there is too much lead in the environment look at how many people have high lead levels in their blood and if they are thereby harmed.
It is fairly common for people to want to have tighter standards for this and that, in the case of lead I would want to see epidemiological evidence that Oz citizens (outside Broken Hill) are experiencing harm. Then it might be useful to go looking for the reasons.
Well start with the news articles a couple of years ago about the levels of lead in Sydney tap water. I think it may have been this furore which prompted the change in WELS standards for brass in taps.
To be clear I think Australua has taken the right approach of treating leas as a contaminant rather than recommending a daily intake which makes it sound almost like a nutrient. There has been a lot of action on lead so I expect they have worked out the permitted levels based on the data they have seen on people eho were damaged. Keep in mind though, acute toxicity is a different issue to long term accumulation. Also in toxicology, it only applies to a mythical “average” person. My main issue is that zero is the only acceptable target. Unattainable in our present environment it may be, nonetheless that’s what we need to work towards. I’m angry that the tap changeover will take so long to complete and the issue was covered up for so long. A generation of children unnecessarily affected. Those stainless steel taps they try to charge $600 for are about $14 from the manufacturer. A couple of hundred to do out a house. We import everything else, why not safe taps? The cadmium in cocoa can only be avoided by moving the plantations onto safer soil. But the lead comes from dirty production lines. To me, that’s unacceptable.
I do trust the lab results from CR. Labs don’t get along by not being able to do an assay. But people should be aware of toxins in what they’re eating. If you’re 99 years old, or already as thick as a brick, and chocolate is your life, the levels in the chocolate are regulated well enough to not make you sick outright. But it isn’t food for children. Really, not fit for purpose.
I don’t know that article. How would it contribute to the broader question of whether Australians ingest too much lead? If there are so many sources of lead doing so much harm where are all the people suffering from the consequences? First let us determine there is a problem then go looking for where it comes from.
There is no environment it would be attained.
I don’t think assuming that the lab and the whole testing regime is competent is useful. However, it is the lesser point.
I get it that people are always very protective of children but I don’t see the evidence yet.
It isnt your fault that you haven’t seen the evidence. Herculean efforts have been made to keep a lid on this issue from what I have seen. Right down to nastiness and insinuations when I politely enquired with an Australian manufacturer about the materials used in their taps.
Here is an article from the time the first story broke. (Please note that while it is worth running the tap as they suggest, it isn’t a fix)
Various news outlets ran similar stories, then it was pretty much “forgotten”.
There is a lot of info on this issue once you know to look.
I found several environmental chemists who work as advisers to ordinary households, and local Council environmental health officers should be able to test household water for concerned residents.
This Australian organisation offers a lot of information on the problem:
I’m mortified as a biochemist that I have been buying European chocolate for my kids, assuming it was safe. What a shock! Going forward, we consumers need to demand that we at least know what we’re getting, and that our food, water and cosmetics aren’t poisoning us. We can’t solve it today, but we can do what we can to make it better.
You started with the CR report saying there is dangerous amounts of metals in some chocolate and asked for a review. That article relies on two ideas; one that they measured the metal (I concentrated on lead) contamination accurately and that the amount found was demonstrably harmful.
You assumed that all laboratories would be accurate and therefore this particular study was accurate. You went on to ignore the question of what dose of lead is harmful and declared that the limit must be zero - despite this being impossible to achieve. I hoped for better on both questions from somebody who was trained in science.
Now you are heading towards more general claims that there is widespread lead pollution in the environment and that somebody is keeping the extent of the problem a secret. This doesn’t contribute to the validity of the original article.
Neither your brief dip into the waters of scientific study of food contaminants nor the unsupported claims of broader conspiracy lead the reader into answering the rather alarming speculation that you raised; that Australian parents are inadvertently poisoning their children with chocolate.
For clarity Consumer Reports in the USA is a pre-eminent consumer organisation of which Which? in the UK and Choice are similar in nature.
The major gripe most people have with CR is similar to a major gripe with Choice reports, that being they are based on impartial lab tests without the context of consumer experiences, eg usability in a consumers hands, reliability and product support. It is sometimes the case that a product that tests very well is unreliable in the hands of a consumer or the manufacturer gives short shrift to supporting it, noting the US does not have a Consumer Law that reflects our own.
All the consumer organisations have scopes and budget issues and are unable to be all things to all products or all causes but periodically raise issues.
From my reading of the linked report, the comments below are my understanding of how the data was presented, I may be wrong but I believe I am correct.
They don’t show in that report the amounts detected, they show what are the accepted levels of intake. Where a metal was not detected because it was below the Method Detection Limit (MDL) they used modelling to predict the presence and then assumed that the actual product had 50% of the limit of when it would reach MDL.
“For heavy metals test results below the method detection limit (MDL), we used the method from Xue et al. (2010) to estimate the average concentration of a model. If the metal was detected in any of the two-three samples of a model, then test results for that model that were below the MDL were assumed to have a concentration of half the MDL”.
I.e, if a metal couldn’t be detected then they modelled an estimate of content and then assigned a 50% of MDL content to all non detected metals.
Rice grown in paddies accumulates Arsenic. Metal uptake occurs in all fruits, vegetables, and cereals to some degree. Anything grown in the ground or in water takes up metals as part of growing. Preparation of food can lessen some amount of concentration but it isn’t a perfect method of removal, e.g., washing rice and cooking it in much more water than it will adsorb reduces Arsenic in the cooked product.
I do agree that the physical place in the world where a product is grown can influence concentrations of harmful contaminants. Businesses should be perhaps more proactive in ensuring the areas they derive supplies from have the least amount of contamination possible so that the products they sell have the least amount possible in them as a consequence.
One has to only look to the role of FSANZ to realise the wide scope of risks they manage, for food safety and quality. The FSANZ 2021-22 Annual Report provides a comprehensive reference to the scope of their activities.
The 20th and 25th Australian Total Diet Studies included targeted assessments of total cadmium and lead in the national dietary intake. These large scale studies are in addition to individual assessments and provide a useful point of reference. Note similar advice to prior posts that cadmium and lead are found in many everyday foods. Per the report at levels that were acceptably low for total lead in the diet and of no public health and safety concerns for cadmium.
TIME consulted several recognised experts and published a follow up to Consumer Reports. Time‘s observations were directed to the USA. Noted heavy metals occur naturally in our environment and hence are found in many foods.
It was suggested,
A healthy, balanced diet is also thought to offer protection from heavy metals. If your body is deficient in heavy metals that are healthy in low amounts—like zinc and copper—it may absorb too many dangerous heavy metals like lead and cadmium, says Wright. And the CDC recommends that children eat diets rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin C, all of which can keep the body from absorbing lead.
This is correct. Working out the significance of it is made harder because, as far as I can see, they do not publish the Minimum Detection Level for each metal for their method and equipment. The PDF on methodology is very short and leaves much out including the raw results, error ranges and the MDLs.
All the test results that were published that show levels of metal higher than their chosen acceptable standard were above the MDL so how they treated those below MDL hardly matters for the headline about unacceptable levels being detected.
This aspect of the testing methodology isn’t very relevant to the main issue of whether there is an acceptable level of heavy metals in food and what it might be for each metal.
Re-reading that post of 7 January I realised that I had made a stupid arithmetical mistake.
If the Food Standards Australia limit is 0.1mg/kg of lead in meat and you ate a 200 gram steak with that level of lead you would ingest 0.02 mg, that is 20 μg. If you ate that steak daily you would be ingesting 20 μg per day of lead.
So our standard is not particularly conservative compared to the American FDA standard of 12.5 μg/day but, allowing for the difference in standard definition, approximately comparable.
In America, lab tests confirmed that many chocolates have high lead and/or cadmium content. Choice did a survey about a variety of chocolates but did not include heavy metal testing. Maybe Choice should include such tests when they research Australian foods.
All of that s probably why I just don’t like American choc. It just tastes wrong. When I was over there in the mid 90s, I thought “Oooooh Hersheys” and then when I actually had some, I thought “UGH Hersheys”.
This has been discussed previously and I have moved your post into the existing topic. It is worth reading through the topic about the results, methodology used and the reasons CHOICE may not undertake such investigations (it may do so or may not). We do have organisations tasked with setting standards, checking food quality and contaminants, e.g., Food Standards Australia. If you have concerns about contamination of chocolate, you can raise this with FSA for their attention.