The report concludes that cadmium can be found in cocoa and chocolate due to its presence in soils, either through natural or artificial sources, where cocoa is grown and harvested in the tropics.
Cocoa plants absorb cadmium from the soil via their roots and deposit it in the nibs (center) of the cocoa beans. Reducing cadmium levels without compromising taste characteristics will require mixing low- and high-cadmium beans in the short term and changing soil composition or cocoa genetics over time, especially in regions with low cadmium content. America and the Caribbean where fine flavored cocoa is grown and cadmium levels in soils tend to be higher.
In contrast, lead is not absorbed by the roots of cocoa plants, the experts found. Instead, lead from many sources, including soil, dust and deposits from power plants around the world, adheres to the outer shells of cocoa beans after they are extracted from the pods.
The beans are naturally coated in a sticky cocoa pulp called “baba” or “mucilage” which allows the lead to cling to the beans while they are fermented and air-dried in the tropical countries where they are grown. cultivated.
Research has found that, where possible, minimizing ground contact and the potential for airborne deposition at these stages of the harvesting process, and maximizing contaminant removal during cleaning, roasting and shell removal (as many chocolate manufacturers already do) should help reduce lead levels. in finished products.
“The research carried out by this expert committee is important in revealing feasible methods of reducing both lead and cadmium in finished chocolate products.says Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Advisor at As You Sow.
“We appreciate the collaborative approach of the chocolate industry in funding this three-year study. It shows how California’s Toxic Enforcement Act can lead to positive change. We look forward to working with industry to set lower levels of cadmium and lead as we move into the implementation phase of this work..”
Based on their findings, the experts identified and prioritized a list of recommended cadmium and lead reduction measures that industry should consider implementing. Significant lead reductions can be expected within the first year of implementing new handling practices. Cadmium reductions beyond those achieved through blending and potential changes in agricultural practices, including soil treatment and planting of new trees, will take longer.
Overall, if you compare the cadmium content of even higher-grade cocoa beans, the amount found in cocoa and chocolate is significantly lower than other foods we may consume on a daily basis. — Emily Stone Co-Founder/CEO Uncommon Cocoa
Food safety and product quality are top priorities for the chocolate industry and the NCA says member companies remain committed to high standards and strive for continuous improvement in this regard.
Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association, says: “The NCA and its chocolate industry members welcome the report resulting from the expert panel investigation they funded as part of a California Proposition 65 pre-settlement with As You Sow. . We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to implement actionable measures that ensure product quality and safety so consumers can continue to enjoy chocolate as a delicious treat.
In Europe, the European Commission introduced in January 2019 a regulation setting “maximum residue limits” (MRLs) for cadmium in foodstuffs, including specific cocoa and chocolate products.
Products that are found not to comply with food safety regulations will be denied access to European markets, which is an obvious concern for farmers in South and Central America. Since cadmium can be present in cocoa beans, strict regulations are applied to products derived from cocoa (i.e. chocolate). These chocolate limits are translated into cocoa limits by importers, who now reject cocoa beans that register above the translated thresholds.
Earlier this year, the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) also announced a major new initiative to tackle the cadmium content of cocoa beans. The project, “Improving Capacity Building and Knowledge Sharing to Support the Management of Cadmium Levels in Cocoa in Latin America and the Caribbean,” will be implemented in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad. and Tobago with a budget of $551,000, made possible through a funding contribution from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU).
“Overall, if you compare the cadmium content of even higher-grade cocoa beans, the amount found in cocoa and chocolate is significantly lower than other foods we may consume daily, such as spinach and shellfish. You would have to consume a very large amount of chocolate for it to pose a health risk.“said Emily Stone, co-founder/CEO of Uncommon Cacao, a sustainable and transparent exporter of beans from Latin America, as well as other regions.
Stone also told ConfectioneryNews that cocoa farmers have virtually no control over the cadmium content of their soils. They may be farming land that has been in their family for generations. Many small cocoa farmers are ‘organic by default’ because their income does not allow them to buy agrochemical inputs. High-cadmium cocoa origins can have large areas certified for organic and even biodynamic practices, further assuring us that the cadmium in cocoa is naturally present.
“There are no commercially viable methods with widespread application at present for growers dealing with high cadmium soils.“, she says. “So when chocolate makers are no longer able to buy that cocoa due to cadmium regulations, these companies look elsewhere for cocoa, leaving producers without a market and at high risk of falling back into the volatile commodity cycle or of potentially having to reduce their cocoa. trees and replace them with more environmentally damaging monocultures such as corn or pineapple“
Governments, scientists, NGOs, cocoa farmers and chocolate companies are rushing to identify solutions to reduce the uptake of cadmium by cocoa trees, but in an already depleted and low supply chain. value, this work is slow and underfunded.
A study* by scientists at the University of Illinois also found that it was the total amount of cadmium in the soil and the pH that explained how much cadmium ends up in a cocoa bean.
The use of lime?
Heavy metal soil remediation is not something the average cocoa farmer can afford, but scientists suggest evidence that lime is a mitigation measure that could reduce cadmium levels.
“Liming soils reduces acidity, making cadmium less soluble and less likely to be taken up by plantssays Assistant Professor Andrew Margeno, and one of the scientists involved in the research
Although lime is relatively cheap in the United States, it is not cheap in contexts of high poverty, but he thinks that lime generally increases cocoa yield, and because it could have a double benefit , liming might be worth the effort and cost.
“If you’re going to ask people to invest in expensive inputs, assuming they can find them, that’s fine if they can provide multiple benefitshe says.
In their review, the scientists noted studies reporting variations between cocoa cultivars in terms of cadmium uptake. Could plant breeding be the solution?
“It’s really hard to fight soil chemistry on anything, so breeding cocoa varieties or rootstocks that are less likely to be absorbed could be a solution. The problem is that most of the end of the world cocoa is grown by small farmers, mainly in South America, on perhaps 1 or 2 hectares.“, explains Margenot. “They can’t really afford to invest in new germplasm.
*Drivers of cadmium accumulation in Theobroma cacao L. beans: a quantitative synthes of soil-plant relations across the Cacao Belt, is published in PLOS ONE [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0261989].