Europe\'s sweetmakers dismiss US toxic chocolate claims
LONDON - Europe\'s confectioners yesterday strongly rejected a U.S. lawsuit alleging top chocolate makers had failed to disclose that some products contained hazardous levels of toxic metals such as lead.
\"We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these baseless and frivolous allegations,\" a spokesman for the world\'s top food company, Switzerland\'s Nestle, told Reuters.
Most manufacturers reacted more in bewilderment than anger at the suit, filed in a Los Angeles court by the American Environmental Safety Institute (AESI), and Britain\'s food health watchdog said it did not regard chocolate as a toxic hazard.
In a statement prepared for Reuters, the Food Safety Authority rejected the idea that the metals naturally present in chocolate represented a health risk.
\"Chocolate is not a significant source of dietary cadmium and lead,\" the FSA said.
\"Chocolate products have been included in a survey of snack and convenience foods we have carried out, and levels of lead and cadmium were low... Only 3.75 percent of dietary exposure to cadmium and 3.84 percent of exposure to lead came from the sugar and preserves group (including chocolate),\" it said.
Cadbury Schweppes Plc, Britain\'s biggest chocolate maker, said only it was \"not aware of any problems\", and affirmed that raw materials such as cocoa beans were screened for potential health hazards.
Trace metals such as lead and cadmium occur naturally in chocolate, the levels varying depending on the soil in which the cocoa plants are grown. In sufficient quantities they are a proven heath risk, especially to children.
But Mike Webber, director of UK industry body the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance, said even the most chronic chocaholic would be physically incapable of consuming enough candy bars for toxins to pose a health risk.
\"Lead and cadmium are there, but in such minute amounts that you\'d need to eat hundreds of kilos every day to cause yourself a problem. This has been examined several times by the experts - it\'s a storm in a teacup.\"
The BCCCA regularly conducted its own independent checks of cocoa beans to rule out contamination, Webber said.
The suit charges Nestle, Kraft Foods Inc., Hershey Foods Corp. and others with violating California\'s Proposition 65, a health law that requires warnings to be given before individuals are exposed to hazardous chemicals.
\"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,\" the non-profit AESI said in a statement.
The office of California\'s Attorney General said it had conducted its own probe and cleared the chocolate makers of violating Proposition 65, which applies only to potential hazards added in the manufacturing process.
The Nestle spokesman said the AESI, which has filed a string of suits against tobacco, food and drugs companies, had \"no scientific competence of any sort\", and one industry insider accused it of \"bounty-hunting\" - stressing he was not referring to the coconut candy bar from Mars, Inc.
Story by Trevor Datson, European Consumer Goods Correspondent
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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