The Food and Drug Administration, after congressional pressure, is now pursuing a plan to address high levels of heavy metals in baby foods. Although the agency has set maximum allowable levels of metals like lead in bottled water, it has not regulated levels of metals in baby and toddler foods, with the exception of arsenic in rice cereal.
But spurred by a congressional report in February that found many of the products made by the country’s largest commercial baby food manufacturers contain significant levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, advocacy groups, members of Congress and outraged parents have urged the agency to act.
The FDA’s plan outlines a multiyear process of evaluating the science, establishing maximum acceptable levels, monitoring manufacturers’ compliance with those levels and taking enforcement actions. These maximum levels will be recommended and voluntary for manufacturers.
“Although action levels are not binding, we have seen that, over the years, our guidance on action levels and other actions have contributed to significant reductions of toxic elements in food,” an FDA spokeswoman wrote in a statement.
Heavy metals can leach into fruits and vegetables from soil or water contaminated by pesticides, fertilizers and other sources. They can also be introduced to baby foods as additives and mineral or vitamin mixes. While pediatricians and nonprofits such as Healthy Babies Bright Futures say levels in individual baby foods do not pose a significant risk, protracted exposure over time can cause lasting neurodevelopmental disabilities in children.
Advocacy groups such as Consumer Reports and Environmental Working Group say the FDA’s move represents a positive development after years of inaction by the agency on this topic, but they are concerned the plan may not go far enough.
The Washington Post, 13 April 2021