Study presses confectionery industry to rid all lead found in candy, especially those sold to children

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Study finds 12% of Mexican candy brands analyzed exceed the US FDA's recommended level. Photo: iStock
Study finds 12% of Mexican candy brands analyzed exceed the US FDA's recommended level. Photo: iStock

Related tags: Confectionery, Digestion

Researchers have called on the confectionery industry to remove lead traces in candy products after finding high concentrations in 4% of candy samples and 12% of brands analyzed in Mexico.

Study authors from the National Council of Science and Technology, National Institute of public Health, University of Toronto, Department of Preventive Medicine, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and National Institute of Perinatology said lead exposure poses a health risk, particularly to children, who absorb the possible carcinogen more readily than adults.

The US National Confectioners Association says many foods naturally contain unavoidable trace of lead from the environment and adds cocoa-based foods are not a major source of lead in the diet.

The study published in the Journal of Environmental Research​  found 4% of candy samples and 12% of brands contained lead levels higher than the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s)  recommended level of 0.1ppm.

Eliminating all occurrence of lead

Although most candy samples contained lead levels below the FDA's recommended level, researchers want the findings to serve as reminder for candy manufactures to continually monitor its processes to protect against traces of lead.

“This evidence should be used to press both the companies to improve the quality of their products, and the government to have stricter laws and surveillance. Lead should not be found in any amount in any consumer products, especially those that children can have contact with,” ​the study stated.

The study comes after non-profit As You Sow last year issued legal notices to 16 chocolate companies​ including Hershey, Mars, See’s Candies and Lindt, accusing them of failing to label lead and cadmium content in chocolate contrary to Californian law. A claim the companies refute.

Children are the most at risk

Lead exposure poses a significant health risk to the Mexican population, particularly children who consume candy on a daily basis — 31.3% of children ages one to four and 36.5% of children ages five to nine eat candy every day, the study said.

Additionally, a child absorbs 50% of the lead ingested compared to 10% of lead absorbed by an adult, said the researchers.

The study also acknowledges that other factors, like hand to mouth behavior and consuming traditional Mexican homemade candy made from Tamarind, also can contribute to increased blood lead levels in children.

Small amounts of lead are safe to consume, says FDA

Since November 2006, the U.S. FDA decreased the “recommended lead concentration in candy likely to be consumed frequently by small children” ​from 0.5 to 0.1 ppm (the limit set for producers) and implemented surveillance concentrations testing lead concentration periodically.

However, eliminating all traces of lead in candy and other foods is not likely to be attainable, the FDA said.

“Lead is widely present in our environment due to its natural occurrence and human activities that have introduced it into the general environment … various foods may contain unavoidable but small amounts of lead that do not pose a significant risk to human health,”​ the FDA said in a recent statement.

The NCA  said in a statement: “Some minerals ​— like cadmium and lead -- are found naturally in many foods, including seafood, peanuts, potatoes, grains, leafy vegetables and ​— sometimes​—cocoa beans. Cocoa-based foods are consumed in small amounts and are not a major source of these minerals in the diet."

What can be mitigated are the foods that become contaminated with lead when they are “grown, stored or processed under conditions that could introduce larger amounts of lead into the food.”

Study method

To evaluate the association between candy consumption and blood lead levels, the study focussed on candy that was eaten during a one-week period and recorded the candy brand, type, and amount of candy reported by the mother or guardian in a questionnaire.

The study then measured the lead concentrations in five samples from each of the 20 most frequently reported brands in the questionnaire given to the 48 participants’ guardians.

Journal of Environmental Research​ 
Publication Date: March 11, 2016
DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.03.007
‘Lead in candy consumed and blood lead levels of children living in Mexico City’
Authors: Marcela Tamayo y Ortiz, Martha María Téllez-Rojo, Howard Hu, Mauricio Hernández-Ávila, Robert Wright, Chitra Amarasiriwardena, Nicola Lupoli, Adriana Mercado-García, Ivan Pantic, Héctor Lamadrid-Figueroa

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Chocolate, Candy

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