Last month, Consumer Reports (CR) revealed that dozens of dark chocolate products sold in the U.S. contain cadmium and lead — two heavy metals that can cause various health problems in children and adults, such as kidney damage and immune system suppression.
Some of the products listed in the report included chocolates from Hershey’s, Theo, Trader Joe’s and Lindt, among other popular brands – many of which are sold here in Canada. However, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada have assessed that the levels of metals found in these products do not currently pose any risk to consumers.
“If the product poses a risk, the CFIA will determine the most appropriate measures to mitigate the risk,” the food inspection agency said in an email to Global News Thursday.
“If a recall is decided as one of the actions, details of the recalled product are made available on the Government of Canada’s recall and safety alert website.”
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Reuters reported Monday that Trader Joe’s has been sued at least nine times by consumers over dark chocolate since Consumer Reports published its study on Dec. 15 of last year. Hershey’s and Mondelez were also sued over the findings, as were other chocolate makers, including Godiva and Lindt.
However, the CFIA says that while the agency is aware of the published report, it has conducted its own investigations in the past looking at various contaminants in food.
“In 2012-13 and 2017-18, a selection of foods that included chocolate were tested for lead and cadmium, among other contaminants,” the CFIA said.
According to the agency, none of the products tested had a high or risky content of heavy metals.
Why are there toxic metals in food?
According to the Government of Canada website, lead and cadmium are “naturally occurring metals” that enter the environment through natural and industrial processes and end 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 lead levels in the environment “have declined significantly over the past few decades due to the discontinuation of lead paint, gasoline, and solder used in food cans.”
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Lead and cadmium are not allowed to be added to food, the government says, but because of their widespread presence in the environment, they are detected in all foods, generally at very low levels.
What are acceptable levels of lead and cadmium in food?
Health Canada and the CFIA routinely monitor cadmium and lead concentrations in a wide range 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 in all foods” that show chocolate contributes less than five percent of “total dietary exposure to these trace elements and that chocolate consumption by the Canadian population does not pose a health problem.”
“As a result, no need was identified to establish maximum limits (MLs) specific for cadmium and lead in chocolate products sold in Canada,” the agency added.
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Can low levels of metals still be considered dangerous?
According to Tunde Akinley, a Consumer Reports food safety researcher who oversaw the chocolate tests, there is a risk that “consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a number of health problems” and that it is better 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 a published report.
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He said those risks include nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage and reproductive problems.
However, the report states that “a single ounce of even one of the chocolates with the highest levels of cadmium and lead in the CR tests is unlikely to cause any immediate harm.” The risk comes with too much contaminated chocolate.
Consumer Reports also pointed out that these heavy metals are already absorbed into our bodies from other important and healthy foods like carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach, “so it’s best to eat dark chocolate only occasionally.”
“Having a serving several days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying,” Akinleye said.
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— with files from Reuters
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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