CODEX is the preeminent international food standards-setting body created to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade through the establishment of voluntary international standards, and codes of practice.

The organisation met this month to review guidelines on recommended cadmium levels in chocolate. Cadmium is a chemical that is absorbed into cocoa by the environment through natural sources such as volcanic activity, or via pesticides for example.

The recommended levels were 0.3 mg/kg in chocolate with up to 30% cocoa, and 0.7 mg/kg for chocolate with between 30% and 50% cocoa content. However, the EU plus Norway and Egypt disagreed with the 0.3mg/kg level, and Switzerland didn’t agree with the 0.7mg/kg recommendation.

The dissenting group wanted the levels significantly lower at 0.1 mg/kg for the products containing 30% cocoa, and 0.3 mg/kg for the products with 70% cocoa. The rationale of these nations is that it is children with their lower bodyweight that are particularly susceptible to the higher levels of cadmium.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conducted research into the effects of cadmium on the body, which can take between 10 and 30 years to be fully absorbed. The recommendations were to limit the intake to below 0.025 milligrams per kilo of body weight per month.

In 2010 a study was conducted on cadmium levels in chocolate powder from a number of producing countries, and the products from Venezuela rose as high as 1.8 milligrams per kilo – well above the European limits.

Cadmium has been found to be a causal agent in reduced bone density, poor kidney function and cancer, yet the international community can’t agree on safe levels, nor how to translate those levels into practical guidelines. Since chocolate comes from different locations, with varying levels of cadmium, and beans can be blended in any case, it’s already a difficult problem. Add the fact that chocolate is made using different amounts of cocoa, from 10% to 100%, this also impacts the ability to make straightforward recommendations.

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