Hershey looking to reduce lead, cadmium in its chocolate after possibly harmful levels found

Hershey faces multiple lawsuits from consumers who claim the chocolate-maker should have disclosed the levels of heavy metals in its products. PHOTO: REUTERS

HERSHEY, Pennsylvania – Chocolate-maker Hershey is looking to reduce “trace amounts” of lead and cadmium in its products, after tests found potentially harmful levels of the heavy metals in some of its dark chocolate bars.

The tests were conducted in late 2022 by Consumer Reports, a non-profit consumer group, on chocolate bars made by Hershey and other manufacturers. The group found that some of the bars contained possibly harmful levels of either one or both the heavy metals for people who eat more than about 28g of the chocolate a day.

The “trace amounts” of the metals found in some chocolate products are “below any recommended level, any standard”, Hershey chief financial officer Steve Voskuil told Reuters on Wednesday.

He added that as lead and cadmium are elements in soil, they can naturally occur in chocolate products.

“Depending on where you source, you may get relatively more lead or cadmium in West Africa versus South America, but in both cases they are naturally occurring,” Mr Voskuil said.

“We would love to eradicate it completely and continue to look for opportunities in the process,” he said on the sidelines of the Reese’s Makers’ Investor Day, organised by Hershey to update investors on the company’s plans and financial outlook.

Consumer Reports found that Hershey’s Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85 per cent cocoa bar was high in lead and cadmium.

Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate and Hershey’s Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70 per cent were also high in lead, according to the report.

Consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a variety of health problems. The danger is greatest for pregnant people and young children because the metals can cause developmental problems and lead to lower IQ, said food researcher Tunde Akinleye who led the testing project.

In adults, exposure could lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage and reproductive issues, he added.

Mr Voskuil said the manufacturing and cleaning processes for cocoa beans remove the “vast majority” of lead and cadmium.

Hershey is “evaluating” if it can remove more of the metals through additional cleaning of cocoa beans or alternate sourcing, he said.

In the Consumer Reports test, researchers used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead (0.5 micrograms, or mcg) and cadmium (4.1mcg) as a benchmark and tested 28 bars of dark chocolate from various brands.

Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, for example, had 265 per cent of the MADL for lead and 30 per cent for cadmium in 28g of chocolate.

Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar with 85 per cent cacao had 127 per cent of the MADL for lead and 229 per cent for cadmium in 28g of chocolate.

Hershey faces multiple lawsuits from consumers who claim it should have disclosed the levels of heavy metals in its products, and that they would have paid less for or not bought them had they known. REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.