San Francisco, CA – Could that box of chocolates from Valentine’s Day make you sick?
The answer to that question may finally be forthcoming. Earlier this week a California Superior Court Judge approved a settlement between the non-profit consumer advocacy group As You Sow and leaders of the chocolate industry. At issue is whether the levels of lead and cadmium found in chocolate require warnings under California’s stringent “Proposition 65” law.
As reported on As You Sow’s web site, cadmium and lead are listed as chemicals known to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
“Our goal has always been to work with chocolate manufacturers to find ways to avoid or reduce lead and cadmium in their products,” Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, said. “This settlement helps achieve that goal and provides for interim warning levels as we jointly work on the study.”
“This settlement will help avoid consumer and retailer confusion while establishing a clear set of guidelines for chocolate and cocoa companies to follow when selling their products in California. It demonstrates that the participating companies are dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible,” said Jerry Hagedorn, current Chair of the National Confectioners Association’s Chocolate Council.
The settlement requires that experts investigate and report on the main sources of lead and cadmium in chocolate products. They will also make findings and recommendations on feasible measures that may be taken, if any, to meaningfully reduce levels of lead and cadmium found in chocolate products. The experts’ findings will be published in a public report and are expected to further the dialogue between As You Sow and the chocolate companies.
As You Sow officials say it could take up to seven years to complete.
The settlement agreement also sets thresholds for determining when Proposition 65 warnings will be required for chocolate products based on their percentage of cacao content and their levels of lead and cadmium.
The Proposition 65 law, which is also called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, was enacted in 1986. According to the American Cancer Society, it requires the state to publish a list of chemicals that are “known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.” The list is updated at least once a year and now contains about 800 different chemicals. The complete list can be found on the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) website.
In addition to As You Sow, the following companies are part of the settlement: 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.