Hershey’s faces a lawsuit over heavy metals in its dark chocolate bars

Hershey’s chocolate is shown in Overland Park, Kan., on July 25, 2011. The Hershey Co. is being sued for allegedly failing to disclose the presence of heavy metals in its dark chocolate bars.

The Hershey Co. is being sued for allegedly failing to disclose the presence of lead and cadmium in several of its dark chocolate bars. The proposed class action, brought by Christopher Lazazzaro of New York, comes two weeks after Consumer Reports sounded the alarm on dangerous heavy metals in dark chocolate bars from manufactures including Lindt, Ghirardelli and Hershey’s.

The lawsuit is seeking $5 million from Hershey’s, calling its advertising and marketing campaign for the dark chocolate bars “false, deceptive, and misleading.” The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that had Hershey’s disclosed on its labeling that those dark chocolate bars contained lead and cadmium, Lazazzaro would not have purchased them.

Hershey’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) guidelines cited in the Consumer Reports study are not food safety standards. An expert investigation conducted through our prior California Proposition 65 settlement concluded that cadmium and lead are present in cocoa and chocolate due to soil and that bean cleaning during processing cocoa beans reduces lead and cadmium in chocolate products. The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements, and the levels provided to us by Consumer Reports testing are well under the limits established by our settlement. Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.”

National Confectioners Association

Consumer Reports tested a variety of dark chocolates in mid-December with the following results:

CR’s tests found five chocolates—one each from Mast, Taza, and Valrhona, and two from Ghirardelli—with relatively low levels of both lead and cadmium. Eight more are lower in only lead, and 10 others in just cadmium. Only five bars—one each from Green & Black’s, Lily’s (owned by the Hershey company), and Trader Joe’s, and two from Theo—were higher for both heavy metals. 

Consumer Reports

CR tested a mix of brands, including smaller ones, such as Alter Eco and Mast, and more familiar ones, like Dove and Ghirardelli. 

For 23 of the bars, eating just an ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health authorities and CR’s experts say may be harmful for at least one of those heavy metals. Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead. 

That’s risky stuff: 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, affect brain development, and lead to lower IQ, says Tunde Akinleye, the CR food safety researcher who led this testing project. 

“But there are risks for people of any age,” he says. Frequent exposure to lead in adults, for example, can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues.