food safety research


The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) has embarked on a project to find ways of reducing Cadmium absorption by Cocoa plants in Latin America.

The organisation will focus on Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad-and Tobago, where there is a high level of naturally occurring Cadmium in the soil. The project has been funded through a number of sources.

The project will be implemented in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago for a total cost of US$551,000, with a grant of US$382,000 from the WTO’s Standard and Trade Development Facility (STDF) and €60,000 in co-financing from the European Union. Participating countries will provide the remainder of the financing requirements as their counterpart contribution.

ICCO Statement

In 2017, the EU sent a shockwave through the industry when they announced a much-reduced level of acceptable Cadmium for chocolate, which effectively made some products with origins from parts of Latin America illegal when it came into effect in 2019.

Why is this a big deal for the EU? Although the European Union is less than 10% of the world by population, we consume half of the world’s chocolate! So determining the safety level was quite important.

Cadmium is a compound with a very long half-life in the body, meaning it accumulates and stays in the body for between 10-30 years. The impact on children was of particular concern since children’s kidneys are more susceptible to contaminants than adults.

The EU drastically lowered the acceptable levels of Cadmium. Because it knew this would cause significant issues to some areas of the world that grew their cocoa in Cadmium-rich soil, they set up funding for research.

See the EU’s infographic, which explains the regulation at a high level:

Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted a study in which they worked out how to track cadmium uptake from the soil in Panama.

The ICCO wants to continue their own research, hopefully producing practical steps for farmers, ultimately more helpful than PowerPoint presentations. The organisation listed their objectives as follows:

  1. The creation of a platform or network to share information and establish continuous dialogue among research institutes to build consensus on standardised testing protocols and best practices for cadmium mitigation and remediation.
  2. Capacity building and enhanced expertise of cocoa producers/stakeholders in the application of standardised protocols.
  3. Improved knowledge and better understanding of possible sources of cadmium presence in cocoa growing areas through analysis and mapping of hotspots and recommended best practices for mitigation and remediation; and
  4. Development of a training curriculum and training of master trainers who will lead the transfer of knowledge on cadmium mitigation and remediation to cocoa farmers and traders in the region.

This is not the ICCO’s first rodeo, as they say, in researching ways to mitigate Cadmium. In November 2017, Gideon Ramtahal, PhD and Postdoctoral Researcher, gave a presentation in Lima, Peru, at the 2017 International Symposium on Cocoa Research (ISCR)

Mitigation of Cadmium Bioaccumulation in Cacao (

The study will last for 2 years, but I worry slightly that the ICCO hasn’t explained what a successful outcome will look like. Will there be practical steps that will help Cocoa farmers, or just more learnings from which solutions must yet be then developed?

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