By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Consumer Reports said on Wednesday it had found “concerning” levels of lead and cadmium in a third of various chocolate products it tested recently, and called on Hershey to reduce the amounts of heavy metals in its chocolate.
The non-profit consumer group said 16 of the 48 products from various makers that its scientists tested contained potentially harmful levels of lead, cadmium or both.
Consumer Reports tested products in seven categories: dark chocolate bars, milk chocolate bars, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and mixes for brownies, chocolate cake and hot chocolate.
Products found to contain excessive metal content included a dark chocolate bar and hot chocolate mix from Walmart, cocoa powder from Hershey’s and Droste, semi-sweet chocolate chips from Target, and hot chocolate mixes from Trader Joe’s, Nestle and Starbucks.
Only milk chocolate bars, which have fewer cocoa solids, were found not to contain excessive metal content.
Consumer Reports has said long-term exposure to the metals can result in nervous system problems, immune system suppression and kidney damage, with greater danger to pregnant women and young children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration told the nonprofit that experts consider chocolate a “minor source of exposure” to lead and cadmium internationally, but that manufacturers and processors remain responsible for ensuring their food’s safety.
Wednesday’s study followed Consumer Reports’ findings last December that 23 of 28 tested dark chocolate bars contained excessive lead or cadmium, including Hershey products sold under its own brand and the Lily’s and Scharffen Berger brands.
Consumer Reports food policy director Brian Ronholm said Hershey, as a “leading and popular brand,” should commit to making its chocolate safer. The nonprofit did not on Wednesday ask other manufacturers for the same commitment.
In March, Hershey Chief Financial Officer Steve Voskuil said his company was looking to reduce levels of lead and cadmium, saying the metals are elements in soil that can occur naturally in a chocolate product.
“We would love to eradicate it completely,” Voskuil said.
Consumer Reports said more than 75,000 consumers signed an earlier petition for Hershey to reduce heavy metals in its chocolate, and that it is now again petitioning the company.
Hershey referred a request for comment to the National Confectioners Association.
“Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the trade group.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York Editing by Bill Berkrot and Helen Popper)