FDA proposes limits for lead in baby food
The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday proposed maximum limits for the amount of lead in baby foods like fruit and vegetable purees and dry cereals, after years of studies showing many processed products contained levels known to pose neurological and developmental risks to young children represent.
The Agency has issued draft guidelines that are not mandatory for food manufacturers. If finalized after a 60-day period for public comment, the guidelines would allow the agency to take enforcement action against companies that have produced food that exceeded the new limits.
“This is a really important advance for babies,” said Scott Faber, vice president of public affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that has asked the agency to take action to remove metals from food. “We were grateful that the FDA and the Biden administration made reducing toxic metals in baby formula a priority.”
The new limits, which target foods for children under the age of 2, do not apply to grain-based snack foods, which are also high in heavy metals. And they don’t restrict other metals, like cadmium, that the agency and many consumer groups have discovered in infant formula in recent years.
Jane Houlihan, director of research at Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a non-profit organization, called the guidelines disappointing. “It doesn’t go far enough to protect babies from neurodevelopmental damage from lead exposure,” she said. “Lead is in almost every baby food we’ve tested, and the action limits set by the FDA will affect almost none of these foods.”
She said the limits would address some of the highest values they had found, but more broadly they seemed to “codify the status quo”.
The agency’s guidelines would set levels that do not exceed 10 parts per billion of lead in yogurts, fruits or vegetables, and 20 parts per billion in root vegetables and in dry infant cereal.
The FDA said in a press release that the proposed levels “would result in a significant reduction in exposure to lead from food while ensuring the availability of nutritious food.” The agency said the proposal is part of its Closer to Zero initiative, which aims to reduce young children’s exposure to toxins such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
The proposed levels “will result in a long-term, meaningful and sustainable reduction in exposure to this food contamination,” said Dr. Robert M. Califf, FDA Commissioner, “falsifies” limits, which would allow the FDA to request a recall, seize product, or recommend prosecution.
The agency estimated that the proposed levels announced today could reduce some children’s dietary exposure to lead by about 25 percent. According to the agency, low levels of lead exposure in children can result in “learning disabilities, behavioral difficulties, and decreased IQ,” as well as immunological and cardiovascular effects.
The FDA previously set limits for inorganic arsenic in infant rice flakes and proposed maximum levels for lead in juices in April.
Representative Raja Illinois Democrat Krishnamoorthi has been a leading voice calling for a reduction in heavy metals in baby formula. He and other lawmakers released a report in 2021 showing that baby foods like carrots and sweet potatoes were contaminated with heavy metals.
Months later, Consumer Reports published tests showing that arsenic was still present in rice flakes intended for babies after the limit was enacted. The group advised parents to favor dry oatmeal as a safer alternative.
Mr Faber of the Environmental Working Group said the new guideline would prompt food companies to be quick to encourage suppliers to change their farming practices to reduce lead levels in food.
“I think history has shown that farmers and food companies are very quick to change the way they grow and process these ingredients to meet stricter standards,” he said.