To settle a lawsuit, three candy manufacturers have agreed to substantially reduce the amount of lead found in spicy Mexican candies that are popular with children.
Under the deal, the candy makers — including subsidiaries of Mars and Hershey — agreed to lead testing and annual audits of their companies and chili suppliers. They also will pay nearly $1 million to reduce lead industrywide and for legal fees.
The settlement, announced Wednesday by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, came two years after an investigation by The Orange County Register found that state and federal regulators knew the candies could cause lead poisoning in children, but did nothing to solve the problem.
The series revealed that unwashed chilies were a major source of lead and that candy makers sold unclean, more dangerous products in Mexico that often made their way to Southern California stores.
“Untold hundreds of thousands of children will now be safe and have a better life,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. “Lead is poison.”
The attorney general’s office led a coalition of government agencies and nonprofit groups who sued candy makers under a state law that requires warning labels on anything that could cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
The companies involved in the settlement include Lucas-brand candy maker Effem de Mexico, a subsidiary of Mars Inc.; Grupo Lorena, now part of Hershey Co.; and four Mexican-based companies under the umbrella company Vero.
“Our clients are pleased we are able to amicably resolve the matter,” attorney Robert Falk said.
The state sued 33 companies but ended up talking with the three largest manufacturers. Other candy makers must join the settlement or face litigation. These companies make other popular candies such as Serpentinas and Bolorindo.
The settlement sets the maximum lead level in candy at 0.1 parts per million, a level consistent with a new draft guideline proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.