May 8 — A nonprofit environmental group on Wednesday named several chocolate makers in a lawsuit alleging that their products contain dangerous levels of lead and cadmium.
THE AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL Safety Institute alleges that Hershey Foods Corp., Kraft Foods Inc., and Nestle SA’s Nestle USA Inc. unit are exposing their customers, especially children, to the toxic metals. Also named were Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Inc. and privately held Mars Inc. and See’s Candies Inc.
“Our scientific research clearly shows that chocolate products contain lead and cadmium, heavy metal poisons also known to the state of California’s health experts to be hazardous to human health,” Deborah A. Sivas, president of the California-based institute, said in a prepared statement.
“The chocolate manufacturers have neither taken appropriate actions to remove potentially dangerous levels of lead and cadmium from their chocolate products, nor notified consumers of the health risks,” she said.
The chocolate companies named in the suit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, collectively control more than 80% of the U.S. chocolate-product marketplace, the institute said.
Responding to the suit, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association described the claims as baseless, and said the California attorney general had reviewed the allegations and determined the lawsuit lacks merit. The companies also said scientists and doctors at the Food and Drug Administration have confirmed the chocolate products are safe to eat.
Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage producer, said Wednesday that it will need to look into the details of the lawsuit. “For now, we have not taken any position,” Nestle spokesman Marcel Rubin said.
Other companies named in the suit weren’t immediately available for comment.
A health expert working with the institute called chocolate a “long-recognized, but under-appreciated source” of dangerous heavy metals. “The presence of lead and cadmium in chocolate was flagged as a problem by the World Health Organization almost 20 years ago,” said Dr. Marc Lappe, director of the Center for Toxics and Ethics, in the institute’s press release.
The institute said it is seeking enforcement of Proposition 65 — a California consumer-health statute that requires warnings be issued to individuals before they are exposed to hazardous chemicals — and California’s Unfair Competition Law.
It is also seeking an injunction to require warnings on chocolate products before they can be sold.
The American Environmental Safety Institute is a nonprofit group that investigates environmental and public-health hazards. The group also has filed lawsuits against cigarette and drug makers.
Goran Mijuk of Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this article.
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