The case was brought by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, in conjunction with 11 California District Attorneys and the non-profit Center for Environmental Health, in 2013, according to the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
California Proposition 65
The act requires a warning by California’s Proposition 65 to consumers if they are exposed to 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving per day but Harris claimed Mondelēz failed to do that even though tests revealed a serving of the ginger snaps contained lead levels up to nine times the required threshold.
“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 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.”
As part of the settlement, Mondelēz will pay $750,000 civil penalties, legal fees and costs and has agreed to adhere 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.
It will also 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 children do not ingest candies that contain more than 100 parts per billion of lead.
Mondelēz denies cookie health & safety concerns
In a statement, Mondelēz denied the cookies pose any health or safety concerns to consumers and said all its products are sold in compliance with applicable federal and state laws.
The Deerfield, Illinois-based company's brands also include Cadbury, Ritz and Triscuit.
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.
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.
The 11 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.