Lead In Chocolate Easter Bunnies? Say It Isn’t So

Lead is the last thing you want to think about when you’re chomping through your chocolate Easter bunny, but one California-based consumer group, As You Sow, are telling parents to beware. You may not even know that most, if not all, brands of chocolate do contain small traces of lead. It is a naturally occurring element and is so minuscule that it’s never mentioned on the list of ingredients. However, As You Sow begs to differ.

According to CNN, As You Sow recently gathered samples of 50 different chocolate products and had them tested by an independent lab. What they found were that more than half of the samples had lead and cadmium levels that were actually above California state’s limits. The lead found was nine times the amount that the state considers safe, and cadmium was seven times higher, too.

“Our goal is to work with chocolate manufacturers to find ways to avoid these metals in their products,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow.

California is known for having tougher rules against harsh and toxic chemicals like lead. The state says that each person should not ingest more than five micrograms of lead a day. Not only are they the strictest in the nation, but they are also stricter than the federal FDA’s guidelines. The difference between the two can be explained like this: The FDA standards are set at a maximum level before any observable effects can been seen, whereas California breaks that limit by about 1,000.

Lead can be everywhere from the air we breathe to the water we drink, so cutting out lead from chocolate is tough. The FDA says that there cannot be more than .1 parts per million of lead in a piece of chocolate. CNN explains that if you broke up a candy bar into a million pieces, just a tenth of one of those pieces would be lead.

“People have been eating cocoa and chocolate safely for centuries,” said a spokesman for Hershey’s in the CNN report. “Consumers can rest assured that our products are safe, and that our industry adheres to all government regulations.”

See’s Candies agrees, saying, “See’s regularly evaluates its products to assure compliance with all state and federal guidelines.”

However, Theo Chocolate, though confident that their chocolate is safe to eat, gave a more cautious statement saying, “We are evaluating the issues raised by this claim…. We are fully confident in both the quality and safety of Theo Chocolate products… we take robust measures to ensure the safety of our products.”

Finally, the trade group National Confectioners Association explained that “Some minerals — like cadmium and lead — are found naturally in many foods, including seafood, peanuts, potatoes, grains, leafy vegetables and — sometimes — cocoa beans. Cocoa-based foods are consumed in small amounts and are not a major source of these minerals in the diet.”

The consultant for As You Sow, Eleanne Van Vliet sees things a little differently. She said that it isn’t known if the sources of metal were actually natural or if it came about during the manufacturing. “It depends on the growing, processing, manufacturing, shipping. So there are a few possible sources, from our research,” she said. “We would really like to have the chocolate industry come together and determine the sources.”

One company, Mars, is taking steps to be more transparent with their ingredients. They recently announced that the company would start to include information about any genetically modified food on product labels in order to comply with a 2014 Vermont law that requires food with genetically modified products to be labeled.

[Photo by Ralph Orlowski / Getty Images]