In May 2014, the EC “adopted new measures to reduce consumers’ maximum levels of exposure to cadmium in foods such as chocolate and infant formula”. This followed a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion which recommended that current exposure should be reduced. A report on the website Bakeryandsnacks.com noted that “the new maximum exposure levels for… cocoa-based products, including chocolate, will come into force in… 2019”, allowing a transitional period for producers to adjust. It noted that “three maximum levels have been set for chocolate”, with stricter standards for products consumed by children and for cocoa powder for direct consumption.
According to EFSA, the main food groups contributing to cadmium exposure are “cereals and cereals products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes and meat and meat products”, primarily because these products are consumed in such high volumes. However, the highest concentrations of cadmium have been detected in “seaweed, fish and seafood, chocolate and foods for special dietary uses, as well as in fungi, oilseeds and edible offal”.
EFSA called for “efforts to reduce exposure levels” to be focused on “food groups where exposure is highest or where consumer groups are most vulnerable”. It is this focus which has seen the establishment of “maximum exposure levels in a range of infant products and cocoa based products”.
The EFSA report noted that “the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives established a provisional tolerable monthly intake of 25 µg/kg body weight, whereas the EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain nominated a tolerable weekly intake of 2.5 µg/kg body weight to ensure sufficient protection of all consumers”, a level nearly 40% below the FAO/WHO-approved tolerance level.
Overall, “the EFSA Panel concluded that although adverse effects are unlikely to occur in an individual with current dietary exposure, there is a need to reduce exposure to cadmium at the population level because of the limited safety margin.”
According to Massandjé Toure-Litse, chief executive officer of le Conseil Café-Cacao of Côte d'Ivoire, there are no problems of cadmium contamination in Côte d'Ivoire, as it is considered “primarily a problem encountered by producing countries in Latin America, mostly Ecuador”.
At the 70th meeting of the ACP–EU Subcommittee on Trade Cooperation held on 23 April 2013, the representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis expressed concerns “that the proposed EU legislation can stop local exporters from moving up the value chain”. At the same meeting, Jamaican representatives, while expressing satisfaction that maximum cadmium levels would apply to finished products and not to cocoa beans, called for an “appropriate transition period”.
The 2019 implementation schedule for the new cadmium limits suggests that an appropriate transition period has been built in to the new regulation. However, while calls have been made for more in-depth studies to reconcile the divergent positions of the EFSA and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) on tolerable levels of intake, it needs to be borne in mind that once a consensus has been reached within the EU, securing any modification is extremely unlikely. Affected ACP exporters will therefore need to start preparing for the new limits now.
The fact that the issue of cadmium levels in cocoa is linked to the nature of the soils on which production is undertaken (with this being essentially confined to production on volcanic soils), suggests a need for the testing and certification requirements for cadmium levels to be differentiated according to production zone and soil type. This would avoid placing unnecessary inspection and certification burdens on those ACP production zones which account for nearly 90% of cocoa imports into the EU and where little danger of cadmium contamination exists.
The International Cocoa Organisation is assisting Caribbean (Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobacco, and Jamaica) and Pacific (Papua New Guinea) producing countries to get to grips with the cadmium issue, and many in-depth studies still need to be undertaken. It would appear to be important for the EU authorities to take into account the findings of these studies in establishing specific inspection and testing requirement levels per ACP exporting country.