Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

Consumer Reports urges Hershey’s to reduce toxic heavy metals in its dark chocolate

CR is calling attention to the dangers posed by heavy metals in the popular Mother’s Day treat

YONKERS, NY — Chocolates are a popular gift this time of the year for Mother’s Day, especially for moms who have a sweet tooth. But as Mother’s Day approaches, Consumer Reports is reminding consumers that it found concerning levels of lead and cadmium in its recent tests of some dark chocolate bars. CR has called on leading dark chocolate makers to reduce the level of dangerous heavy metals in their products and is stepping up its efforts to urge Hershey’s to take action through a petition to the company.

Dark chocolate bars carrying the Hershey’s name or owned by the Hershey Company were among those that had the highest levels of lead or cadmium in CR’s tests. Hershey is featuring recipes for chocolate treats on its website as the perfect gift for moms on Mother’s Day, including some made with dark chocolate or cocoa.

In March, Hershey’s chief financial officer told Reuters that the company “continues[s] to look for opportunities” to reduce levels of heavy metals in its dark chocolate, but no firm commitments have been announced.

“Moms across the country will be showered with gifts on Mother’s Day and for many that includes dark chocolate, a popular favorite,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for CR. “Dark chocolate is a tasty treat that is touted for its potential health benefits and relatively low levels of sugar. Consumers should be aware that many dark chocolate products contain high levels of heavy metals that have been linked to a host of health problems in children and adults.”

Ronholm added, “Our tests found that it’s possible to make dark chocolate products with lower levels of heavy metals that are safer for consumers. As a leading and popular brand of chocolate, we urge Hershey’s to protect consumers from the dark side of dark chocolate by reducing the level of heavy metals in its products.”

CR scientists measured the amount of heavy metals in 28 dark chocolate bars and detected cadmium and lead in all of them. For 23 of the bars, eating just one 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.

CR found that Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% cocoa, which is owned by Hershey’s, was among five bars it tested that had high levels of both lead and cadmium. Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate had the highest level of lead of any of the bars tested by Consumer Reports. The Scharffen Berger Extra Dark Chocolate 82% Cacao bar, owned by Hershey’s, was one of the bars with the highest levels of cadmium in CR’s tests.

While most of the chocolate bars in CR’s test had concerning levels of lead or cadmium, five of them were relatively low in both: Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa, Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao, Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao, Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, and Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao.

Consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a variety of health problems. Frequent exposure to lead in adults, for example, can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. While most people don’t eat chocolate every day, 15 percent do, according to the market research firm Mintel.

Even if you aren’t a frequent eater of chocolate, lead and cadmium can still be a concern. 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.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537