Snack food giant Mondelēz International, Inc., formerly Kraft Foods has agreed to settle a Proposition 65 enforcement action brought by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, and a task force of eleven California District Attorneys and thenon-profit citizen enforcement group Center for Environmental Health (CEH).
Today Harris announced the settlement which calls for Mondelēz to reformulate its ginger snap cookies, which the prosecutors allege contain high levels of lead. A proposed consent judgment was filed on January 21, in Orange County Superior Court.
According to Harris, the lead levels found in Nabisco’s Ginger Snap cookies “posed a serious public health threat,” that could potentially cause developmental harm to children.
The settlement calls for Mondelēz to implement strict product sourcing and testing procedures that limit lead in its Ginger Snap cookies to no more than 30 parts per billion (ppb) per serving. The company agreed to pay $750,000 in civil penalties and attorneys’ fees. Additionally, Mondelēz will hire a food quality auditor to train personnel, and implement ongoing independent auditing of its products to monitor for lead. The proposed consent judgment also calls for the company to monitor its supply chains to ensure raw materials are within acceptable limits.
California’s Proposition 65 requires a warning to consumers if they are exposed to more than 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving per day. The According to the U.S. FDA children should not eat candies that contain more than 100 ppb of lead.
The Attorney General’s office and participating District Attorneys began their investigation of ginger snaps cookies in 2013, after CEH testing of these and other cookies containing ginger revealed that a serving of Nabisco brand Ginger Snaps contained up to nine times the level that requires a warning Proposition 65 warning. Mondelēz did not provide any Proposition 65 warnings to consumers.
According to Mondelēz, the ginger snap cookies have since been reformulated. The lead found in the cookies was attributed to ginger and molasses. Experts have linked high lead levels in molasses to soil in where sugar cane is grown, and also to the manufacturing process. The lead in powdered ginger was linked to contaminated soil where ginger is grown, and to the brining process, according to the Attorney General’s announcement.
Laurie M. Guzzinati, senior director, corporate and government affairs for Mondelēz said the company is confident that these products pose no health or safety concern to consumers and that all our products are sold in compliance with applicable federal and state laws.”
Mondelēz is the world’s largest manufacturer of processed snack foods. Its’ brands include Nabisco, Oreo, Cadbury and Trident.
This settlement is part of a series of cases that Harris and her predecessors have successfully prosecuted under Proposition 65, in order to remove lead from a wide variety of consumer products, including Mexican candy, soda and soda bottles, jewelry, artificial turf, jewelry and vitamins and nutritional supplements.
The eleven District Attorney’s Offices in the action are part of the California Food, Drug and Medical Device Task Force, which prosecutes multi-jurisdictional actions involving product safety and labeling of food, drug and medical devices in California.
Consumer-protection prosecutors from Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Sonoma, Napa, Shasta, Solano, Marin and Monterey Counties participate in the task force.
Prior to the formation of the task force in 2009 local district attorneys rarely prosecuted or intervened in Proposition 65 enforcement actions.