Last month, Consumer Reports (CR) revealed that dozens of dark chocolate products sold in the US contain cadmium and lead — two heavy metals that can cause a variety of health problems, such as kidney damage and immune system suppression, in both children and adults.
Some of the products listed in the report include chocolates from Hershey’s, Theo, Trader Joe’s, and Lindt, among other popular brands — many of which are sold here in Canada. However, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada’s assessments, the metal levels detected in those products don’t pose a risk to consumers at present.
“If a product poses a risk, the CFIA will determine the most appropriate actions to mitigate the risk,” the food inspection agency said in an email to Global News Thursday.
“If a recall is decided on as one of the actions, details on the recalled product are made available on the Government of Canada’s Recalls and Safety Alerts website.”
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Reuters reported on Monday that Trader Joe’s has been sued at least nine times by consumers over its dark chocolate since Consumer Reports released its study on Dec. 15 of last year. Hershey’s and Mondelez have also sued over the findings, as have other chocolate makers, including Godiva and Lindt.
The CFIA, however, says that while the agency is aware of the published report, it has conducted its own surveys on the past looking at a variety of contaminants in foods.
“A selection of foods that included chocolate were investigated for lead and cadmium, among other contaminants, in 2012-13 and 2017-18,” the CFIA said.
Of the products tested, none of the products had high or risky levels of heavy metals, according to the agency.
Why are there toxic metals in foods?
According to the government of Canada’s website, lead and cadmium are “naturally occurring metals” that enter the environment through both natural and industrial processes, ending up in the air, soil and bodies of water.
They can also be found in food, drinking water and household dust.
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The website says levels of lead in the environment have “declined significantly over the past few decades due to the discontinued use of lead paint, gasoline, and the solder used in food cans.”
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Lead and cadmium are not allowed to be added to foods, the government says, but due to their widespread presence in the environment, they are detected in all foods, generally at very low levels.
What are the acceptable levels of lead and cadmium in foods?
Health Canada and the CFIA routinely monitor the concentrations of cadmium and lead in a wide variety of foods sold in Canada, including chocolate products, the food inspection agency told Global News.
The agency said Health Canada has conducted “scientific assessments of cadmium and lead from all foods,” which shows that chocolate contributes less than five per cent to “overall dietary exposures of these trace elements and that consumption of chocolate by the Canadian population does not represent a health concern.”
“As a result, a need to establish a specific maximum level (ML) for cadmium and lead in chocolate products sold in Canada has not been identified,” the agency added.
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Could low levels of metals still be considered dangerous?
According to Tunde Akinleye, the Consumer Reports food safety researcher who oversaw the chocolate tests, there’s a risk that “consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a variety of health problems,” and that it’s best not to be a frequent consumer of these products.
“The danger is greatest for pregnant people and young children because metals can cause developmental problems, affect brain development, and lead to lower IQ … but there are risks for people of any age,” Akinyeye said in the published report.
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He said these risks include problems in the nervous system, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage and reproductive issues.
The report states, however, that a “single ounce of even one of the chocolates with the highest cadmium and lead levels in CR’s tests is unlikely to cause any immediate harm.” The risk comes with having too much contaminated chocolate.
Consumer Reports also pointed out that these heavy metals are being absorbed into our bodies already from other important and healthy foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach, “so it’s best to eat dark chocolate only occasionally.”
“Having a serving a few days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying unduly,” said Akinleye.
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— with files from Reuters
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