I was all excited this week to buy Trader Joe's gingerbread pancakes. Tis the season, right? But then I spotted the Prop 65 warning underneath. The gingerbread pancake mix contains lead... which, you know, probably isn't the best thing to be ingesting. (Why would anyone buy this mix after seeing that warning?)
I assume the caution comes out of this 2013 lawsuit, in which the California attorney general sued Trader Joe's and other large grocery stores for selling lead-tainted ginger and plum candies. Read on:
The suit also offers a glimpse into the highly complex world of food sourcing and labeling. Even as the movement for more labeling picks up steam, environmentalists and food scientists increasingly are confronted with the reality that our food may always be partly shrouded in mystery.
"The fact is that you have a lot of food that you don't know where it comes from," said Ted Ning, executive director of Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a Colorado-based organization that advocates for environmentally and socially sustainable goods and services.
The lawsuit, filed April 30 in San Francisco Superior Court, argues that Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Target, 99 Ranch Market, Island Pacific Supermarket, Marina Food and other retailers have been selling candy, snacks and bulk food made with ginger or dried plums that contains dangerously high levels of lead.
The companies did not alert customers to the lead, the suit charges, and that violates California's Proposition 65, which requires businesses to warn consumers about harmful toxins in food, toys, jewelry and other products.
The retailers have been notified of the lawsuit, and the state is expecting a response in June. Retailers declined to comment on the case, but at least one, Target, has already pulled off its shelves the products named in the suit.
Lead-tainted food can end up in customers' shopping carts more easily than they think, said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union and a national expert on food safety. He said many retailers get products, particularly those made with ginger, from Asia, where food is less expensive and often produced in contaminated environments with little oversight.