A European Commission standing committee on ‘The Food Chain and Animal Health’ held in Brussels on 23 November discussed maximum cadmium levels in foodstuffs.
The discussion took place while maximum levels were still being assessed at technical Expert group level.
The Commission presented a working document introducing revised maximum levels for cadmium in a number of foodstuffs, including chocolate.
It said that higher maximum levels should be set for chocolate with a high cocoa percentage, while a lower level would be permissible for milk chocolate.
Detailed results on maximum cadmium levels will be published by EFSA in January 2012 in a scientific report.
Cadmium is a heavy metal that occurs in the environment, generated by volcanic emissions and the degradation of rocks, as well as from industry and agriculture.
It collects in the soil, water, and air, from where it is taken up by plants and animals eaten by humans.
Studies have shown that excessive cadmium consumption in humans can lead to nausea and the accumulation of heavy metal in the kidneys.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also classified cadmium as a human carcinogen and links the metal to increased risks of cancer.
According to the Commission, cadmium is linked to the total dry cocoa solids in cocoa beans. Cocoa beans take cadmium naturally up from the soil, therefore cadmium levels can be different in cocoa beans grown in different geographical areas.
Cadmium in dark chocolate
In 2006, Germany submitted data to the EC that that levels of cadmium varied between different types of chocolate, with levels in dark chocolate being the highest.
It also said new maximum levels should be set as the majority of products containing cadmium were in chocolate products aimed at children.
In 2009, an EFSA panel on contaminants in the food chain decided to lower maximum cadmium content in foodstuffs to 2.5 ug/kg bw.
A possible amendment of the existing legislation could at the earliest be adopted by end of 2012.
Correction: This article previously stated that the Commision had proposed that chocolate with high cocoa percentages should contain lower maximum levels cadmium than milk chocolate. In fact the opposite is true and a higher level has been proposed for chocolates with higher levels of cocoa.