Cacao growers seen benefiting from stringent EU limits for cadmium

Philippine cacao growers are expected to gain from a European Union (EU) law that limited the maximum levels of cadmium in cocoa-based products, according to the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s PTIC in Geneva tested the cadmium level of Philippine cacao beans, and said it passed the new EU limits set on the heavy metal. This makes the local produce acceptable to use in Swiss chocolates.

The EU in 2014 approved Commission Regulation 488 which calls for new limits on the cadmium levels in cocoa products by January 1, 2019. The law is seen as a “serious threat” to smallholder cacao farmers and challenges manufacturers to look for alternative sources for the bean.

“While Switzerland is not part of the EU, it adopts the EU General Food Law and exports the majority of its chocolate production to the EU. Swiss consumers also have the highest per-capita rate of chocolate consumption worldwide,” said Jean-Benoit Charrin of FarmStrong Foundation.

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FarmStrong’s Michiel Hendriksz added  that cacao beans from Davao have just the right amount of cadmium regulated under the EU law. “Davao-sourced fermented cacao beans have low cadmium level that is well within the acceptable values, providing a big opportunity for Filipino cacao farmers,” he said.

Local cacao farmers should take advantage of the low cadmium level of their cacao beans, the PTIC in Geneva said, as Swiss chocolatiers look for new sources of the produce to protect their international reputation for high-quality chocolate.

Cadmium is a heavy metal found in industrial and agricultural resources. Since 2001 the EU has imposed a regulation on the maximum levels for cadmium in food.

The regional bloc finds it necessary to moderate exposure levels to the heavy metal in certain food groups where exposure is highest or where the consumer groups are most vulnerable. Wide-ranging products are affected by the regulation, from infant food to cocoa-based goods.

Under the EU law that will take effect next year, milk chocolate with below 30 percent of cocoa can only contain no more than 0.10 milligram per kilogram (mg/kg) content of cadmium; chocolate with over 30 percent cocoa but below 50 percent should have no more than 0.30 mg/kg of cadmium; and chocolate with more than 50 percent cocoa will have a threshold of 0.80 mg/kg of cadmium. Cocoa powder for drinking can only contain 0.60 mg/kg of the heavy metal.

The tighter regulation is seen to impact on cacao growers in Latin America, as previous research reported their beans to have higher levels of lead and cadmium compared to those from West Africa. However, cacao beans from West Africa are considered “bulk beans” and lack the flavor Swiss chocolate manufacturers are looking for.

With the imminent entry into force of the EU law, Manila is keen on bolstering the presence of local cacao beans in the global value chain, and this discussion could come into play in the country’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Cacao Congress
in September.

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