SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - Snack industry giant Mondelez International - formerly Kraft Foods - has settled claims that its Nabisco Ginger Snap cookies are contaminated with up to nine times the California limit for lead, Attorney General Kamala Harris said.
Harris and 11 district attorneys sued Mondelez International in Orange County Court on Jan. 21, alleging violations of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act aka Proposition 65.
Kraft Foods spun off its snack food business in 2012 and changed its name to Mondelez International.
"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," Harris said in a statement.
Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that primarily affects the central nervous system. Exposure can cause many health problems, including birth defects, cancer, reproductive harm and death.
Symptoms in children include sluggishness, vomiting, and developmental delay. Adults typically experience memory loss, high blood pressure, abdominal pain and mood disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.
California has not established a safe exposure threshold for lead, as no level is believed to be safe. But the state requires companies to put warnings on the labels of products that contain 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving.
Under the settlement, Mondelez agreed to implement strict product and source testing protocols to ensure that lead levels in its cookies are below 30 parts per billion per serving. It also will pay $750,000 in civil penalties, costs and attorneys' fees.
The state began investigating Mondelez in 2013 after a Center for Environmental Health report indicated that the Nabisco ginger snaps were contaminated.
The lead was linked to ginger and molasses grown in contaminated soil and from the manufacturing process. Mondelez has reformulated the cookies and promised to "monitor supply chains to ensure raw materials are within acceptable limits," according to the statement.
Founded in 1923, Mondelez is a food and drink conglomerate that manages several well-known snack foods brands, including Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Nabisco, Triscuit, and Toblerone candy bars.
Mondelez declared net revenue of more than $30 billion in 2014 from more than 80 countries. It holds the leading position globally for cookies, chocolate and candy manufacture, and is in second position for gum, according to a company fact sheet.
The state claimed that lab tests of Mondelez's Nabisco ginger snaps showed that the cookies were "contaminated with up to nine times the California limit for lead without a warning."
A Mondelez spokesman told Courthouse News: "While Mondelez International has settled this case, we remain confident that these products pose no health or safety concern to consumers and that all our products are sold in compliance with applicable federal and state laws. We felt it was in the best interest of all parties concerned to resolve this matter at this time to avoid protracted litigation."
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