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Hershey's Is Getting Called Out Over Lead and Cadmium in Its Chocolate

A new Consumer Reports study showed some troubling findings.

Valentine's Day is when chocolate sales traditionally soar but, this year, it will also be a deadline by which four major chocolate producers will need to step up their game when it comes to chemicals in their chocolate.

At the end of December, a series of tests run by product safety nonprofit Consumer Reports identified Trader Joe's, Hershey's  (HSY) - Get Free Report, Lindt  (LDSVF) , Godiva and Mars' Dove as brands whose dark chocolate products may contain particularly higher-than-normal levels of cadmium and lead.

The outrage was significant and, two weeks after the study, a class action lawsuit accused Hershey's of advertising their chocolate in a "false, deceptive, and misleading" way" -- by cashing in on the widely-held belief that dark chocolate is healthier for you while not disclosing the presence of these chemicals in products like Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, which Consumers Reports said contained  265% of lead's maximum allowable dose levels in California.

While cadmium and lead appear on cocoa beans naturally due to the contaminants' presence in soil and air amid pollution, chocolate that has not been properly treated to remove it can lead to various health problems to those who eat it regularly -- Consumer Reports draws attention to hypertension, kidney damage and fertility issues in particular.

A Valentine's Day Chocolate Deadline

"By marketing the Products as containing only dark chocolate ingredients, and not disclosing the presence of cadmium and lead, Defendant misleads reasonable consumers," reads the lawsuit filed by Christopher Lazazzaro in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York.

While class-action lawsuits often fizzle out, the ante was raised now that Consumer Reports sent a new letter to Hershey's, Mondelez  (MDLZ) - Get Free Report, Theo Chocolate and Trader Joe's. As first reported by Reuters, Consumer Reports is urging the chocolate makers to make a definitive commitment by Valentine's Day.

"Many choose to eat dark chocolate because of its potential health benefits and relatively low levels of sugar," Consumer Reports writes in four similarly-worded letters to the chocolate makers. "But there's nothing healthy about ingesting heavy metals. Consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts can lead to a variety of health problems, including nervous system issues, immunosuppression and kidney damage."

As of Monday afternoon, over 55,000 consumers concerned about the situation signed the Consumer Products letter that also asked the companies to make a bigger commitment to decreasing its products' lead and cadmium levels.

Hershey's Chocolate Lead KL 012323

A Chocolate Lead Battle That Goes Back Years

"The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements, and the levels provided to us by Consumer Reports testing are well under the limits established by our settlement," the National Confectioners Association told TheStreet in a statement. "Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible."

The head-to-head between chocolate makers and consumer advocacy groups date back years. In 2016, another group called As You Sow sent legal notices regarding lead labeling to Hershey, Mars, and See's Candies.

According to Reuters, Trader Joe's has also been facing at least nine lawsuits over the findings of the study.

It has, overall, been a busy few weeks for chemical findings and class-action lawsuits; a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York claims that Coca-Cola  (KO) - Get Free Report's Simply Juice brand is marketed as a "healthy" and "all-natural" beverage option while actually containing PFAS "forever chemicals" hundreds of times above the federal limit for drinking water.

The lawsuit asks a judge to award "economic compensation" to all the consumers who have "suffered injury" over drinking Simply Juice products over a period that in some cases dates back years.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a statement from the National Confectioners' Association.