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Lawmaker Calls for FDA to Respond to Report on Toxic Metals in Baby Food

Toxic metals – such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and others – occur naturally and as environmental pollutants in air, water and soil and they enter the food supply when plants take them up as they grow. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actively monitors the levels of these metals in food and established a Toxic Elements Working Group in 2017 to analyze the data and coordinate FDA’s response. Toxic elements are not necessarily more prevalent in food today than in previous generations, but increasingly sensitive detection methods and the wealth of available data may offer ways to reduce the intake of toxic metals, especially by uniquely vulnerable populations such as infants and toddlers.

According to its website, Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) is an alliance of nonprofit organizations, scientists and donors that designs and implements outcomes-based programs to measurably reduce babies’ exposures to toxic chemicals in the first 1,000 days of development. HBBF’s report, What’s in my baby’s food, released October 17, 2019, identifies the levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury found in 13 types of baby food: puffs/snacks, teething biscuits, infant rice cereal, other (non-rice) infant cereal, fruit, vegetables, mixed fruits and vegetables, meats, meals, infant formula, apple juice, 100% fruit juice, and other (non-juice) drinks. As widely covered in the popular press, HBBF reported that 94% of the baby foods contained lead, 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium, and 32% contained mercury, while 26% of the baby foods contained all four toxic metals.

Heavy metals may be a future action item for at least one lawmaker. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is reportedly calling for FDA to respond to HHBF’s report and to establish standards for heavy metals. The HHBF report urges FDA to:

  • Set health-protective standards for heavy metals, prioritizing foods that offer FDA the greatest opportunity to reduce exposure, considering additive effects of the multiple metals detected in foods, and explicitly protecting against neurodevelopmental impacts.

  • Strengthen and finalize standards for arsenic in apple juice and infant rice cereal, and expand the range of foods covered. HBBF supports recommendations for a 3-ppb inorganic arsenic standard and 1-ppb lead standard that apply to all fruit juice, and a health-protective standard for arsenic in infant rice cereal and all other rice-based foods.

  • Implement a proactive testing program for heavy metals in foods consumed by babies and toddlers, similar to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s program for children’s toys (CPSC 2019).

  • Ensure lead is not present in food contact materials where it could get into food.

  • Establish a goal of no measurable amounts of cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic in baby and children’s food, in recognition of the absence of a known safe level of exposure, and work with manufacturers to achieve steady progress.

  • FDA has not commented on HHBF’s recommendations.

© 2020 Keller and Heckman LLP


About this Author

Keller and Heckman offers global food and drug services to its clients. Our comprehensive and extensive food and drug practice is one of the largest in the world. We promote, protect, and defend products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and Member States authorities in the European Union (EU) and similar authorities throughout the world. The products we help get to market include foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, veterinary products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. In addition...