Los Angeles, California - Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, in conjunction with eleven California District Attorneys and the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health, announced a landmark settlement with food industry giant Mondelēz International, Inc., formerly Kraft Foods, for selling ginger snap cookies containing lead in excess of California limits without the warning required by California’s Proposition 65. A consent judgment was filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court and is awaiting approval by a judge.
“The levels of lead found in Nabisco’s Ginger Snap cookies posed a serious public health threat, potentially impacting the brain development of our children,” said Attorney General Harris. “Parents need accurate information to make educated food choices for their children. My office will continue to enforce Proposition 65 to guarantee that all Californians are fully informed when hazardous substances and chemicals can be found in consumer products.”
Under the settlement, Mondelēz will agree to strict product sourcing and testing protocols that limit lead in its Nabisco Ginger Snap cookies to no more than 30 parts per billion per serving and will pay approximately $750,000 in civil penalties, costs and attorneys’ fees. Additionally, the company will hire a food quality auditor to train personnel, will fund ongoing independent auditing of its products to monitor for lead, and will monitor supply chains to ensure raw materials are within acceptable limits.
Lead is a neurotoxin that primarily affects the central nervous system, putting children with developing brains at a greater risk of suffering from the neurotoxic effects of lead. While no safe lead exposure threshold has been identified, California’s Proposition 65 requires a warning to consumers if they are exposed to 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving per day. The FDA recommends that children do not ingest candies that contain more than 100 parts per billion of lead.
The Attorney General’s office and District Attorneys began their investigation of Nabisco Ginger Snaps in 2013, after a Center for Environmental Health investigation into these and other cookies containing ginger. Testing revealed that a serving of Nabisco brand Ginger Snaps contained lead levels up to 9 times the level that requires a warning under Proposition 65. Mondelēz was not providing any Proposition 65 warnings to its customers.
The ginger snap cookies have since been reformulated. Lead sources in the cookies were linked to ginger and molasses. Experts have linked high lead levels in molasses to soil in which sugar is grown, and also to the manufacturing process. Sources of lead in powdered ginger have also been linked to contaminated soil in which ginger is grown, and to the brining process in which it is dried.
Mondelēz is the world’s largest manufacturer of processed snack foods. Mondelēz brands include Nabisco, Oreo, Cadbury and Trident. Nabisco brand ginger snap cookies were the subject of the lawsuit.
Proposition 65, "The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,” is California’s landmark law which serves to protect public health and the environment by requiring businesses to provide warnings if they expose individuals to any listed carcinogens or reproductive toxins. At least once a year, the state must update a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list includes approximately 800 chemicals. Proposition 65 mandates that businesses notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. It also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.
This settlement is part of a series of cases that Attorney General 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 and soda, 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.
In early 2015, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the formation of the Bureau of Children’s Justice (BCJ) at the California Department of Justice. BCJ’s mission is to protect the rights of children and focus the attention and resources of law enforcement and policymakers on the importance of safeguarding the rights of every child so that they can meet their full potential. Staffed with civil rights and criminal prosecutors, and working across all sectors of the Department of Justice, including Legislative Affairs, Native American Affairs, the Division of Law Enforcement and other sections, BCJ focuses its enforcement and policy reform efforts on several key areas, including discrimination and inequities in education; systemic reform of foster care, adoption, and juvenile justice systems; and consumer protection relating to services and products for children or families with children.