Proposed lead limits for baby food under fire: ‘FDA hasn’t done enough’

The Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance Tuesday that would lower the allowable levels of lead in certain processed baby and toddler foods. Critics said the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

The lead content of fruits, some vegetables, mixtures, yogurts. custards and puddings should not exceed 10 parts per billion, per the FDA, while the limit for single-ingredient root vegetables and dry cereals should be set at 20 parts per billion.

“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24% to 27% reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in a statement.

Califf said this proposal, which would cover food packaged in jars, pouches, tubs and boxes, would “result in long-term, meaningful and sustainable reductions in the exposure to this contaminant from foods.”

The FDA has taken new measures to lower levels of lead in baby food in a report released on Tuesday.
The FDA has proposed lowering the allowable levels of lead in baby food in draft guidance issued Tuesday.
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Some activists are calling for stricter guidelines. Jane Houlihan — the national director of science and health for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which is focused on reducing babies’ exposure to neurotoxic chemicals — argued that many manufactured baby foods already comply with these suggested limits.

“The FDA hasn’t done enough with these proposed lead limits to protect babies and young children from lead’s harmful effects,” Houlihan told CNN in a statement. “There is no known safe level of lead exposure, and children are particularly vulnerable.”

Houlihan’s group authored a 2019 report that found toxic heavy metals in 95% of baby food on the market.

The FDA has released new guidance for acceptable levels of lead in baby food.
The FDA says it is not possible to remove contaminants like lead entirely from the food supply.
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Lead poisoning is extremely dangerous — even having small amounts in your system can affect mental and physical development, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children under 6 are especially vulnerable.

In a statement Tuesday, Consumer Reports called the FDA’s proposal “an encouraging first step,” but pushed for stricter limits.

The outlet analyzed 50 baby and toddler foods in 2018, finding 34 contained “concerning” levels of lead, cadmium and/or inorganic arsenic; and 15 would pose a risk to a child who ate one serving or less per day.

“The FDA should set strict limits on so-called baby junk food — grain-based snacks such as puffs, rusks and wafers — since those foods typically contain the highest levels of lead,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumers Reports, in Tuesday’s statement, which noted the FDA did not propose limits for grain-based snacks.

The FDA promised to host a webinar to review the draft guidance and answer questions, with more details to be announced “shortly.”

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