Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation last week, which would put new limits on the amount of heavy metals allowed in baby food, following a Congressional report that found high levels of lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium were present in many popular foods that American parents give to their children.
On March 26, Senators Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, introduced The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 in the United States Senate. At the same time, Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois, and Tony Cardenas, of California, introduced an identical bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation would require the FDA to set limits of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic in baby food, and 15 ppb for cereal. It would also set a limit of 5 ppb (10 ppb) for cereal) for lead; 5 ppb (10 ppb for cereal) for cadmium; and 2 ppb for all baby food, including cereal, for mercury.
If passed into law, those levels would be required to be lowered in two years via FDA guidance, and again after three years. Manufacturers would have to meet these levels within one year of passage.
In addition, the bill would require manufacturers to post results of testing for these heavy metals in their baby food products online at least twice per year, and would establish a public awareness campaign through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the risks of toxic metals in baby food, and would allocate $50 million for research on how to reduce the presence of toxic heavy metals in baby food through agricultural means.
The legislation comes after a House Oversight Committee report released on February 4, which highlighted internal documents and testing data for baby food products manufactured by Gerber, Beech-Nut Nutrition, Plum and others.
Findings from the U.S. Congressional report indicate some baby foods contain more than 91 times the maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water; 177 times the allowable levels of lead, 69 times the limits on cadmium, and five times the levels of allowable mercury.
“It’s unacceptable that despite parents’ best efforts to keep their children safe, some leading baby food manufacturers have put products on the market that expose children to dangerous toxins,” Senator Klobuchar said in a press release issued by Rep. Cardenas. “This legislation will protect children and ensure they get a healthy start by holding manufacturers accountable for removing toxins out of infant and toddler foods. I’ll keep fighting to give parents the peace of mind they deserve.”
A number of consumer protection groups, such as Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, and the American Sustainable Business Council have already endorsed the legislation.
The FDA and CDC have long maintained exposing infants and children to toxic heavy metals can cause a permanent decrease in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior, and untreatable and frequently permanent brain damage.
Heavy metal exposure to infants is a serious concern. Lead exposure at any level is extremely unsafe for children. Prior studies have linked heavy metal exposure to behavioral impairments, brain damage, damage to the nervous system, seizures, growth impairments, and even death. More oversight is needed to help protect infants from serious health side effect sand long-term health damage, the congressional report concluded.
Toxic Metal Baby Food Litigation
Since the report released in February, manufacturers have faced a growing number of baby food lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to centralize the baby food cases earlier this month, asking the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize the cases before one judge in the Eastern District of New York, where the majority of cases are currently pending.
Such consolidation is common in complex product liability litigation, where a large number of product liability lawsuits have been filed over similar injuries caused by the same products. Centralizing the cases before one judge is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.