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Chocolate Companies Sued for Lead Content of Products

LOS ANGELES - An environmental group on Wednesday sued chocolate makers including Hershey and Mars for not disclosing the amount of toxic metals such as lead that are in their products, as required under California law, Reuters reports.

The chocolate manufacturers dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous and alarmist, saying the amount of lead and cadmium in products like candy bars and hot chocolate mix is no more than in other foods because the metals occur naturally in soil.

"People have been eating chocolate safely for hundreds of years," said Michele Corash, an attorney for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the American Environmental Safety Institute said research shows that dangerous levels of lead and cadmium in chocolate pose a serious health risk, especially to children.

The environmental group cited Mars Inc., Hershey Foods Corp., Nestle USA Inc., Kraft Foods NorthAmerica Inc., Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Inc. and See's Candies Inc. for violating California's Proposition 65, a consumer health law that requires warnings to be given to individuals before they are exposed to hazardous and dangerous 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 from toxic lead and cadmium," Deborah Sivas, president of the environmental institute, said in a statement.

"Lead has been proven to produce insidious damage to health because it threatens the normal development of mental faculties and normal social behavior, especially in children," said Dr. Marc Lappe, director of the Center for Toxics and Ethics.

In response, the Chocolate Manufacturers referred to a September statement from California's Attorney General, the office charged with enforcing Proposition 65, which concluded that lead in chocolate products does not result from human activity.

"Under this regulation, the company providing a food product is not responsible for 'naturally occurring chemicals' in food if certain criteria are met," the correspondence from Attorney General Bill Lockyer reads.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America issued a statement noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health authorities have found that the tiny traces of naturally occurring lead in food do not present a health risk.

In its lawsuit, the institute said it is seeking an injunction to require warnings on chocolate products before they can be sold; appropriate restitution to those who purchased these products without receiving these legally mandated warnings; and civil financial penalties.
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