Prepared Foods July 12, 2004 enewsletter

Certain candies imported from Mexico contain lead, endangering the health of children, according to a group of lawsuits filed in California.

Lollipops, chewing gum, candy bars and hard candies, as well as their wrappers, contain chili powder or tamarind spice that becomes contaminated with lead during the manufacturing process, said the suits filed in Los Angeles by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Alameda County, the city of Los Angeles and the Center for Environmental Health in Berkeley.

The suits accuse the candy manufacturers of violating state Proposition 65, which makes it illegal for businesses to knowingly and intentionally expose people to chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects.

The National Confectioners Association said the candies "are safe and enjoyable to eat" and that traces of minerals such as lead are found "in virtually all foods" without affecting public health.

On behalf of the National Confectioners Association, Arturo J. Gonzalez, counsel to companies named, issued the following statement regarding action taken by California's Attorney General:

"Our members' Mexican candy products are safe and enjoyable to eat. These products comply fully with all food safety laws, including U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Our members' products also comply fully with Mexican food safety requirements.

"As reputable candy producers, our members manufacture their products in accordance with food safety standards, using methods recommended by the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recent attention to the category of Mexican candies has caused them to review their food safety protocols and to reaffirm their confidence in the quality and safety of their products.

"California's Proposition 65 is a state law designed to inform consumers about certain chemicals. It does not apply to trace amounts of naturally occurring substances in foods, including candy. Traces of minerals such as lead are found naturally in soil and water where plants grow. As a result, traces of them are also found in virtually all foods, including fish, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, and candy. People have been eating those foods safely for generations. Scientists and public health regulators have determined that the tiny amounts of minerals that are part of the natural make-up of food are not a safety issue.

"All the major manufacturers of Mexican candy place the safety and quality of their products, and consumer satisfaction, as top priorities. Their facilities in Mexico are modern and use modern quality assurance processes, including adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices on food safety, a prohibition against using lead in food processing equipment, and strict specifications for packaging materials.

"Our members who manufacture Mexican candy understand the California Attorney General's interest in this matter, look forward to addressing it, and pledge their cooperation. Our members believe that this process will further substantiate confidence in their products and satisfy the Attorney General and the public that their products are safe and enjoyable to eat."