Ottawa, Dec 20, 2022 – In response to the Consumer Reports’ most recent investigation entitled “Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate” published on Thursday, December 15, 2022, Camino, a Canadian brand of fair trade and organic products, owned by La Siembra Co-operative, wishes to address the concerns expressed by its customers regarding heavy metals in their chocolate based products.
Heavy metals in chocolate have been a topic in the news for many years. Our co-operative, La Siembra, works hard to deliver high-quality, delicious and safe products to our Camino customers while continuing to support our producer partners.
Ensuring Food Safety
Over the years, La Siembra, together with our producer organizations, has done a lot of work to understand heavy metals in cocoa and chocolate-based products. Cadmium and lead are found in chocolate at trace levels, most often due to uptake from the soil on cacao farms through natural processes. This is not just an issue for chocolate; it is found naturally in many foods such as potatoes, grains, rice, leafy greens and more. As Health Canada offers little guidance for maximum cadmium or lead levels in the food we regularly consume[i], we looked for other international reference points to guide us regarding safe levels of heavy metals in our products. We found a credible reference point in the European Food Safety Commission and the US Food Safety System Standards.
Cadmium is often more prevalent in the soil in South and Latin America, mainly due to the volcanic nature of the soil. As with all other food safety or allergen attributes, we have upper limits for naturally occurring cadmium and lead in our agreements with our principal chocolate suppliers. These suppliers are working with small farmer co-operatives in Peru and other affected regions to help implement soil management techniques that limit the naturally occurring cadmium uptake in cacao trees and the presence of lead post-harvest. Farming strategies such as making the soil less acidic, producing their own adapted organic fertilizers, off-the-ground drying stations, and selecting cocoa varieties that are less susceptible to heavy metal uptake contribute to lower amounts present in the beans used in our supply chain.
In 2016, we put in place a heavy metal control plan based on what we have learned, and as such, we feel confident in the safety of our Camino products. We have been conducting semi-annual lab testing on our highest cocoa-content foods to benchmark against the standards being considered in the various jurisdictions. The audit and monitoring of heavy metals and all our testing for priority allergens are regularly reviewed by CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). No recommendations, non-compliances or recalls have been imposed on those products at any time.
Building Fair and Transparent Supply Chains
Additionally, our work in supporting fair trade between cacao growing regions and North American markets requires us to consider the long-term impacts on small-scale farmers’ livelihoods before making significant changes to our supply chains. As buyers, we could explore diversifying our cacao supply to include cocoa mass from other regions, including West Africa, where cadmium in the soil is less of a problem. However, this would not be inconsequential, as there is a significant chance we would lose the capacity and valuable transparency we have built in our long-term trading relationships. Other companies can and will transition their supply chains in ways that may have significant detrimental impacts on those farming communities and families affected by naturally occurring higher levels of heavy metals in their soil and who rely so heavily on the income provided by their cocoa beans. But our response will always be to sell safe products while continuing to support our producer partners who are actively working to change the terms of trade and build positive alternatives in their communities.
Our co-operative La Siembra, will continue to ensure that we are in compliance with all CFIA regulations governing the importation and sale of our chocolate-based products. Given that all the products and ingredients imported by La Siembra are fair trade and organic certified, our co-operative already has a fully traceable supply chain. This traceability will further ensure our products comply with all applicable food safety regulations in the future.
Feb 13th, 2023: Latest position on the matter from Health Canada
Health Canada emphasized in their emailed statement “consumption of chocolate by the Canadian population does not represent a health concern.”