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The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new levels for lead in baby foods, but critics say more action is needed

Allowable levels of lead in some baby and infant foods must be set at 20 parts per billion or less, according to new draft guidance released Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“For infants and young children who eat foods covered by the current draft guidelines, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in a 24-27% reduction in lead exposure from these foods,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Roberts. Cliff in a statement.

The agency said the baby foods covered by the new proposal include processed baby foods sold in boxes, jars, sachets and tubs for infants and toddlers under two years of age.

While any action by the FDA is welcome, suggested lead levels are not low enough to move the needle, said Jane Houlihan, national director of science and health for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a coalition of advocates committed to limiting the measure. . Exposure of children to neurotoxic chemicals.

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“Almost all baby foods on the market are already in line with what they suggested,” said Houlihan, who wrote a 2019 report that found dangerous levels of lead and other heavy metals in 95% of processed baby foods.

That report sparked a 2021 congressional investigation, which found that leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold products with high levels of toxic metals.

“The FDA has not done enough with the proposed lead limits to protect infants and young children from the harmful effects of lead. There is no known safe level of lead exposure, and children are particularly vulnerable,” Houlihan said.

Consumer Reports’ director of food policy, Brian Raunholm, also voiced concerns. In 2018, Consumer Reports analyzed 50 baby foods and found that they “got it” for levels of lead and other heavy metals. In fact, “15 of them are dangerous to a child who eats one serving or less per day,” according to Consumer Reports.

“The FDA should encourage the industry to work harder to reduce dangerous lead and other heavy metals in baby foods given how vulnerable young children are to exposure to toxins,” Ronholm said in a statement.

Toxic metals in the soil

Lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury are among the WHO’s top 10 chemicals for infants and children.

As natural elements, they are present in the soil in which crops are grown and therefore cannot be avoided. However, some crop fields and areas contain more toxic levels than others, due in part to the overuse of metal-containing pesticides and constant industrial pollution.

New FDA guidelines suggest that processed baby foods, fruits, food mixtures — including cereals and meat-based mixes — puddings, vegetables, yogurts, meats and single-ingredient vegetables contain no more than 10 parts per billion of lead.

The exception to the above is single-ingredient root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, which should contain no more than 20 parts per billion, according to the new guidelines.

The new FDA guidelines said dry cereal marketed to infants and young children should also contain no more than 20 parts per billion of lead.

However, the FDA has not proposed any lead limit for cereal puffs and teething biscuits, Houlihan said, even though the products account for “7 of the 10 highest levels of lead we found in more than 1,000 baby food tests we evaluated.”

A specific limit on root vegetables would be beneficial, Houlihan added. Since they grow underground, root vegetables can easily absorb heavy metals. For example, sweet potatoes often exceed the 20 parts per billion suggested by the Food and Drug Administration.

There is more to be done

Prior to this announcement, Houlihan said, the Food and Drug Administration had set limits for heavy metals in only one baby food — baby rice cereal. In 2021, the agency sets a limit of 100 parts per billion of arsenic, which has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes and developmental neurotoxicity.

“The FDA needs to put in place a cap that protects children’s neurodevelopment,” Houlihan added.

“There are a lot of solutions already available to reduce levels of heavy metals in baby food. Companies can ask suppliers and farmers to test them, and they can choose ingredients with lower levels. Farmers can use soil additives, different growing methods, and crop varieties that are known to reduce lead in their products.” “, She said.

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