The Chocolate Report


NOTE – The report below came out in 2015. Since that time there have been numerous updates on what is in our chocolate. Here are some:

3/28/2024. Trader Joe’s wins legal victory after judge issues decision in dark chocolate lawsuit

1/6/2023. Dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s, Hershey has ‘unsafe levels’ of lead and cadmium, lawsuits say

12/15/2022. Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate

When I was young, chocolate was a favorite treat. The best candy to get in your trick or treat bag was a Hershey’s bar with almonds! We went on a school trip to the Hershey’s plant in Pennsylvania and I marveled at the big vats churning sweet smelling melted chocolate and the orderly rows of Hershey’s kisses moving along the assembly line like soldiers. It was heavenly. For me, a Nestlé’s chocolate bar came in close second and when I got a little older I discovered the smoother taste of Cadbury. I thought I was so sophisticated preferring Cadbury chocolate.

In January of this year, the Hershey’s Company, Let’s Buy British Imports agreed to stop importing all Cadbury’s chocolate made overseas.

Chocolate in Britain has a higher fat content; the first ingredient listed on a British Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (plain milk chocolate) is milk.

In an American-made Cadbury’s bar, the first ingredient is sugar and also includes different emulsifiers that reduce the viscosity of chocolate, giving it a longer shelf life.

I can’t tell you which I prefer, the British or the American, because I have not eaten a Cadbury bar in almost 30 thirty years.

This month in a press release Nestlé USA announced its “commitment to removing artificial flavors and FDA-certified colors, like Red 40 and Yellow 5, from all of its chocolate candy products. By the end of 2015, more than 250 products and 10 brands including NESTLÉ’s CRUNCH® will be free of artificial flavors and certified colors.

The Good News is that Nestlé is making these changes because consumers want more “natural” products. Unfortunately, in my opinion they are not going far enough.

I don’t eat Hershey’s, Cadbury, Nestlé or Mars chocolates anymore, at all. All Cadbury and Hershey’s chocolate bars contain dairy milk ingredients. Nestlé and Mars do not make vegan products. If you know anything about the milk industry you will know the horrors the cows endure. Cows must become pregnant and deliver offspring in order to produce milk. They are artificially inseminated or raped, separated from their calves within a day or two of birth, and made pregnant again and again until they are spent and are slaughtered for their meat. Their calves are typically raised for a brief period in confined conditions, fed and iron-poor formula that keeps their flesh tender and bones weak until slaughtered for veal.

Now for those of use who want to avoid dairy products because of the cruelty involved or because we may have a dairy allergy the good news is that the best chocolates, the ones the true chocolate connoisseurs love are the dairy-free dark chocolates. In a recent FDA study, 100 dark chocolate bars were tested for the presence of undeclared milk. They found that a high proportion of the dark chocolates tested contained milk, even when the label failed to list milk as an ingredient. Chocolate samples that had no statement regarding milk on the label as well as some of the chocolates labeled “dairy free” were found to contain milk.

Results included:

While dark chocolates labeled “dairy free or allergen-free” were the least likely to contain milk, two out of 17 of these products were found to contain milk.

All seven bars that declared the presence of milk on the label contained milk; however, 55 (59%) of 93 bars without any clear indication of the presence of milk also were found to contain milk.

Six out of the eleven chocolate products labeled “traces of milk” contained milk at detectable levels high enough to potentially cause severe reactions in some individuals.

What else should we know about Chocolate?

Chocolate has been around a long time, with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BC in Mesoamerica, a region extending approximately from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica. The seeds had so much value at one time they were used as a form of currency. Originally chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices, wine or corn puree.

In the sixteenth century, in Spain, sugar was added to it and the chocolate craze was ignited, quickly spreading to Europe and beyond.

We’ve heard a lot of good news about chocolate, especially concerning dark chocolate since it is loaded with antioxidants and magnesium, Iron, Copper, Manganese along with plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

The love for chocolate, which developed between the early 17th and late 19th centuries unfortunately brought with it a thriving slave market. What may be hard to believe is that the association with slavery and chocolate still exists today – specifically child slavery in West Africa, and there has been relatively little progress made to reduce or eliminate this terrible practice.

The best that we can do is avoid buying chocolate from companies that use child labor, with practices that violate international labor laws. How can we do that? The good news is that you can check the chocolate list created by Food Empowerment Project, an organization founded by lauren Ornelas.

The list reflects Food Empowerment Project’s most recent research on companies that make vegan products containing chocolate to find out if they source their chocolate from areas where slavery can still be found.

They even have a mobile App for you to carry the most up to date list with you wherever you go. Every time I check back to see this list, there are more brands of Chocolates the Food Empowerment Project feels comfortable recommending. And that’s good news!

Aside from slavery, is there anything else you should be concern about when buying chocolate? Yes there is.

Is there Cadmium in your chocolate? Cadmium is a naturally-occurring metal used in batteries and found in cigarette smoke. Cadmium and cadmium compounds are known to cause cancer, cadmium can be toxic to the kidneys; can soften the bones, causing bone pain; and may affect fetal development.

Last year published results of their analysis of cocoa products, including nine brands of cocoa powder, for flavonols, caffeine, theobromine, and heavy metals. All but one of the cocoa powders had high levels of cadmium.

The American Chemical Society published a study in August of 2014 entitled Cadmium and Lead in Chocolates Commercialized in Brazil. Samples with five different cocoa contents (ranging from 34 to 85%) from the same brand were analyzed and the results showed that chocolate might be a significant source of Cd and Pb ingestion, particularly for children.

The organization As You Sow began extensive independent laboratory testing of 42 chocolate products for lead and cadmium. They found that 26 of the chocolate products (~62%) contain lead and/or cadmium at levels in which one serving exceeds the California safe harbor level for reproductive harm.

They filed notices with 16 manufacturers, including:

See’s, Mars, Hershey, Godiva, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Circle Organics, Moonstruck, Theo, and Vosges, for failure to warn of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolate products.

It doesn’t seem to matter if your favorite chocolate is an inexpensive brand, a luxury brand or organic.

Scharffen Berger, Dagoba Organic Dark Chocolate, See’s Candies Premium Extra Dark Chocolate and Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate, according to AS YOU SOW, all contain high levels of lead and/or cadmium.

And just because your favorite chocolate hasn’t been listed on any of these lists doesn’t mean it’s okay, it just means it hasn’t been tested.

I reviewed the results from and As You Sow and crosschecked them with all the chocolate products listed with the Food Empowerment Project. The Good News is there is one vegan chocolate that does not contain dangerous levels of cadmium or lead and also has been recommended by the Food Empowerment Project for not sourcing their chocolate from areas where slavery is found. That chocolate is

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate. We like this company’s dark chocolate.

2016 Update: Not such good news about Endangered Species Chocolate. Endangered Species dark chocolate was tested this year by As You Sow and it’s now listed on their report: Endangered Species Chocolate Natural Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa for lead and cadmium; Endangered Species Chocolate Natural Dark Chocolate (72% Cocoa) for lead.


All of this information is unsettling. As a vegan, I had the understanding that new chocolate companies wanting to make vegan chocolate often had to borrow chocolate making equipment that processed milk-containing products. Many of us made the concession to support these vegan businesses, believing that the machines were adequately cleaned and if there were trace amounts of dairy, it was something not noticeable. Now the FDA is telling us something different. If you have an allergy to dairy, your best bet is to avoid chocolate or choose the dark chocolates labeled “dairy free or allergen-free”. Some may not be 100% dairy-free but according to the FDA they were the least likely to contain milk. You may want to contact the manufacturer to find out how it controls for allergens such as milk during production. Some companies we know are not transparent and their products should be avoided. The good news is that there are a few trustworthy chocolate companies out there.

My favorite brand right now is Pascha Allergen Free Organic Dark Chocolate, which is free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat and gluten. Listen to my interview with Pascha Founder, Simon Lester.

Let’s look at the bright side. We have organizations like the Food Empowerment Project and As You Sow, as well as the FDA uncovering what we need to know about chocolate. It’s up to each one of us to be informed. If you have a favorite chocolate and want to know whether it’s free of cadmium, lead, dairy and cruelty, I recommend contacting the company and asking them. The more each of us take action, letting companies know that we want REAL food, real food without toxic chemicals, real food produced without cruel exploitation of people and animals, the better it will be for all.

And that’s the REAL Good News in Review. Now over to Gary in the Transition Kitchen.

  11 comments for “The Chocolate Report

  1. Since you are using ConsumerLab as a resource, you should be aware that Endangered Species Chocolate Dark Chocolate tested 1.5 micrograms of Cadmium per 28 grams, while your new fave — Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate — tested a whopping 22.7 micrograms of Cadmium per 42 grams. I will email you a screenshot of this info, as I can’t post an image on your website, unfortunately. Your readers deserve a correction.

    • Pascha replied to my email May 2020 to say years ago the cadmium issue was not something the industry was aware of as a concern. Best beans grow in volcanic regions and soil which has natural cadmium. It’s content varies by location, season and time. They now test every batch of beans and every batch of chocolate. Any above the limit agreed to by the organization referred to in ConsumerLab report is rejected. They say if ConsumerLab tested again they would find very different results.

  2. I just want to know the levels of Lead and Cadmium in Hershey’s Cocoa 100% Cocoa Special Dark Blend of Natural and Dutched Cocoas. I hope you can help me. Thanks.

    • There are a number of organizations that are testing chocolates and cocoa for lead and cadmium. As You Sow continues to test and add to their list of acceptable and non acceptable brands and types. also tests and reports but you must pay a membership fee to get their report. In this article from Prevention, based on the report they included Hershey’s cocoa as a contaminated product: saying “Nearly every cocoa powder ConsumerLab analyzed—including products from Nestle, Trader Joe’s, and Hershey’s—contained dangerously high quantities of cadmium, a metal research has linked to kidney damage and bone softening.” You may want to become a member and get access to their chocolate reports which are always being updated. The Food Empowerment Project Chocolate List contains the companies they recommend and don’t recommend based on whether they source their chocolate from areas where slavery can still be found. Hershey’s is NOT recommended for this reason.

  3. The FDA and USDA have a record. A Special Prosecutor and Grand Jury would be a threat not only to Monsanto, but International Trade and members of Congress. When the US Marshall Service serves the first warrants on the floors of the Senate and the House, then we can Hope.

  4. Every time someone speaks so highly of the FDA I cringe. You say people should be informed about chocolate and I think people should be informed about the FDA, the fact that it’s one of the many CORRUPT government agencies controlled by Monsanto. And the same goes for the USDA. So I don’t think that we should feel so confident about anything these agencies say.

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