California Proposition 65 FAQs
What is cadmium?
Cadmium is a natural element (metal) in the earth’s crust. Natural occurrences, such as volcanic activities, weathering and erosion, and river transport can release it into the environment.
What have other governing bodies (outside of California) established as safe levels of daily cadmium consumption through food?
Safe levels of daily cadmium consumption through food are calculated by your body weight. For a 100 lb. person (multiply by your weight to calculate safe levels for your situation):
- WHO (World Health Organization) estimates a tolerable on-going monthly intake of 25 µg /kg of body weight which translates into 38 µg daily.
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has set the reference dose for food at 45 µg a day.
These governmental bodies have established the above limits based on the cumulative effects of cadmium ingestion over time. The health effects with which they are most concerned relate to kidney function and calcium metabolism (softening of bones and osteoporosis).
Additionally, EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has set maximum permitted levels of cadmium in cocoa and derived products beginning January 1, 2019. These are based on Parts Per Million (PPM) and have been finalized at 0.8 PPM for Chocolate with > 50% total dry cocoa solids (such as ours).
Our products fit well within WHO and EPA guidelines as well as new EFSA standards for cacao and chocolate products. And, while our products naturally contain calcium, iron, zinc and fiber which can help to reduce the amount of cadmium that your body absorbs, we recommend eating no more than one serving per day on an on-going basis to support a balanced diet.
Is it common for cadmium to be found in cacao products?
Yes. Cacao trees are known to avidly take up cadmium from the soil. Therefore, cacao nibs, cacao beans and especially cacao powder (where most of the touted health benefits of cacao are also found) commonly exceed the CA Prop 65 MADL for Cadmium.
Are there other foods that contain cadmium?
Yes. According to the CDC, others include: “tobacco, rice, other cereal grains, potatoes, and other vegetables… Cadmium is also found in meat, especially sweetmeats such as liver and kidney. In certain areas, cadmium concentrations are elevated in shellfish and mushrooms.” The EU has added to this list: “nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes, and meat and meat products.” Typically, consumers don’t see a CA Prop 65 Warning on these other foods because the warning label is only required on processed / packaged foods.
If you are concerned about cadmium exposure in your diet, it would be best limit the foods listed above to recommended serving sizes and overall consumption guidelines for a balanced diet.
How does cadmium get into cacao?
A recent study by ETH Zurich, a STEM University in Switzerland, tried to determine exactly how cadmium is entering into cacao. They confirmed (as have countless studies) that it starts with the soil. Elevated cadmium levels in soil lead to elevated levels in trees and pods. Researchers also discovered raised cadmium levels in floodplains and volcanic soils – both of which can be places where cacao thrives.
These same researchers also found elevated cadmium levels in remote hilly regions and agroforestry (often organically farmed) estates. This means the presence of cadmium may not be man-made.
We have tested our cacao both before and after processing for our snacks and have confirmed that our production process is not increasing cadmium levels, nor is it able to reduce them (the downside of minimal-processing in this case).
Can cadmium absorption from the soil be prevented?
It’s still unclear. The chocolate industry and many national governments are actively researching solutions. Reducing soil acidity by augmenting the soil with lime or zinc is one known way. But this can be complicated when farming organically (as our Honduras farmers do), not to mention that any effect on cocoa quality has yet to be determined.
Research is also being done around “hyperaccumulating” plants that can be planted where cacao is grown to take the cadmium before the cacao gets it. However, the research is new, methods and applications are relatively unknown and any option can increase growing costs and thus the price of cacao.
Why don’t all chocolates sold in California contain the CA Prop 65 warning?
It is less common to see the warning on chocolates or other chocolate-based products because the addition of other ingredients (sugar, cocoa butter, alternative fats, inclusions) dilutes the cadmium per serving to less than the CA Prop 65 MADL. These additions also generally increase the sugar, carbohydrate and fat contents!
As a point of reference, in a database of 127 popular chocolate and cacao products tested, only two with cacao content >70% tested below the CA Prop 65 MADL for Cadmium – and, in both cases, they had a reduced serving size!
Moreover, in February 2018, the Superior Court of California issued an opt-in summary judgment redefining Prop 65 Warning Guidelines for chocolate products. This relaxed warning requirements for chocolate manufacturers with 10 or more employees who paid a minimum fine of $54,000 (either as a penalty or opt-in).
We don’t have 10 or more employees and therefore don’t qualify for the less stringent standards.
The updated guidelines are as follows:
Current Thresholds: 4.1 μg/day
New Prop 65 Settlement Thresholds:
- ≤65% cacao content - 0.4 ppm
- 65-95% cacao content - 0.45 ppm
- >95% cacao content - 0.96 ppm
Why don’t all cacao products sold in California contain the CA Prop 65 warning?
While it is possible for a 30g serving size of unprocessed cacao to fall under the Prop 65 MADL, it is highly unusual. Often, manufacturers of cacao nibs or powder that contain cadmium may choose to reduce the serving size (based on recommended usage occasions), to ensure their product falls under the CA Prop 65 MADL.
How can you say snacking cacao is “better-for-you” when it carries the CA Prop 65 warning?
We believe (along with the vast majority of medical doctors, scientists and researchers) that cacao is far “healthier” for you than sugar, added fats and these other additives. With 74% of the US Adult Population being overweight and nearly 34% of those being obese, we are committed to creating better-for-you snacks that will be a benefit, not a detriment, to our overall health. Our snacks are nutritionally dense and use minimally processed (and often organic) ingredients. Our cacao is high in fiber, plant-based fat & protein – all of which help satiate quickly. Moreover, countless studies have shown its benefits to cardiovascular health, reducing LDL cholesterol, improving brain function, reducing type 2 diabetes risk, suppressing oxidative stress (this can help prevent cancer), reducing your body’s stress reactivity, improving gut health and even has positive effects on skin.
Each of these studies encourage consumers to choose chocolate products with high cacao content and less sugar to reap the greatest health benefits. So, we have committed to keeping a high cacao content despite the CA Prop 65 warning label. We believe the health benefits far outweigh the risks; especially when our snacks are enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
As a note, we add a small amount of cane sugar to make cacao more approachable. Even this was by design as some studies have indicated there may be some benefit to cacao flavanol bioavailability by doing so!
How much cadmium is in your product?
Measures vary significantly by harvest, origin and even by farm in the same community. Over the past few years, tests have ranged from undetectable up to 37 µg per serving. Our cacao from Honduras typically tests lower than our cacao from Indonesia – as expected given the 76 active volcanoes spanning across Indonesia (cadmium tends to be higher in volcanic soil).
Given the wide range, beginning with imports in 2017, we are testing each batch from each harvest and origin and have begun actively working with our farming community partners on activities to reduce cadmium uptake in their soil.
Please see our individual product descriptions for more specific results by product. And please don't hesitate to contact us directly if you’d like know the test results for a specific batch number.
For more information, here are select publications & research we found helpful (not included above).
* denotes easy-to-read in plain language.
- The CA Prop 65 Legislation for Cadmium. Proposition 65 Maximum Allowable Daily Level (MADL) for Reproductive Toxicity for Cadmium (Oral Route) (2001). Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment.
- The most widely referenced article on the topic - Health effects of cadmium exposure – a review of the literature and a risk estimate. Lars Järup, Marika Berglund, Carl Gustaf Elinder, Gunnar Nordberg and Marie Vanter. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, Vol. 24, Supplement 1 (1998), pp. 1-51. Published by: the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment, and the Norwegian National Institute of Occupational Health.
- An article by the CDC. Toxicological Profile for Cadmium (2012). Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Exposure to Cadmium: A Major Public Health Concern (2010). Published by: Public Health and Environment, World Health Organization.
- *Cadmium Toxicity, Where is Cadmium Found? (2011). Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- *Cadmium and Cadmium Compounds Fact Sheet (2016). Published by: Proposition 65 Warnings, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
- *How to Reduce Your Dietary Cadmium Absorption. Michael Greger M.D. FACLM (2015). Published on: NutritionFacts.org.
- *Is There Cadmium In Your Cocoa? Berkeley Wellness, July 8 2015.