Lawmakers Criticize FDA’s Lack Of Action Removing Toxic Heavy Metals from Baby Food
Federal lawmakers have issued a sharp rebuke to the FDA, indicating that regulators are failing to do enough to remove toxic metals from baby food products, which have been linked to an increased risk of autism and ADHD for children.
In 2021, a U.S. Congressional report ignited a firestorm of concerns over dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury found in a number of different popular baby foods, and nearly two years later reports suggest that toxic metals in baby food remain a pervasive problem, with high levels still found in popular brands sold by Gerber, Plum Organics, Sprout, Walmart and others.
This week, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Amy Klobuchar joined together with Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tony Cardenas to send a letter (PDF) to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, urging the agency to move expeditiously to finalize guidance for the industry about levels of any heavy metals in baby foods that will be actionable.
Harmful Effects of Heavy Metals in Baby Foods
The letter points to the wide range of harmful effects heavy metals in baby food can have on children, especially during one of the most critical stages of development and growth.
“As you know, arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, while present in many foods we eat, can be especially harmful to children,” according to the letter. “These toxic heavy metals have a range of negative effects on a child’s health, particularly on neurological development, and can result in behavioral disorders and lower academic achievement.”
Manufacturers of products found to contain high levels of these heavy metals already face hundreds of toxic baby food lawsuits, involving allegations that children developed autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and other side effects.
The lawmakers indicate there are no safe blood levels for lead in children, as it is well documented that exposure can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, and increase the risk of long-term health complications. Similar neurological effects are also known to occur from exposure to high levels of mercury, according to the letter.
While the letter did thank the FDA for recently releasing new baby food lead limits last week, the Senators and Representatives indicate that more must be done to ensure the safety of foods consumed by babies and young children.
FDA “Closer to Zero” Plan
Shortly after the U.S. Congressional report was released in 2021, the FDA announced a “Closer to Zero” plan to remove heavy metals from baby food, indicating that the agency would assign a team of investigators to begin collecting and interpreting the existing science to determine what levels are both safe and achievable for lead, arsenic cadmium and mercury in baby food.
While the agency stated back in early 2021 that it anticipated announcing the first proposed guidelines for lead in April 2022, the proposed guidance on lead was just released earlier this month, approximately nine months behind schedule. Officials also still must still finalize and issue a final rule for lead levels, and repeat the process for arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
The lawmakers indicate the FDA needs to speed up its efforts, in order to protect children from potentially serious and life-threatening health risks.
“It is deeply concerning that high levels of toxic heavy metals remain in our Nation’s manufactured baby foods,” the senators wrote. “Given the severity of the potential dangers posed by this, we urge FDA to expeditiously finalize guidance documents for industry on proposed action levels for lead in foods consumed by babies and children under the age of two.”
The lawmakers further call for the agency to expedite its Phase 2 and Phase 3 commitments of the Closer to Zero plan, and to provide responses to the following inquiries by February 20, 2023:
- When will FDA finalize action levels for lead in juices and processed baby foods?
- When does FDA expect to release draft guidance on arsenic levels in foods consumed by babies and children under the age of two?
- When does FDA expect to submit draft guidance on mercury levels in all foods intended for babies and children under the age of two?
- What steps will FDA take in the interim to address the high levels of toxic heavy metals found in the baby foods tested in the recent reports?
The letter was spurred by a recent investigative report published by Bloomberg Law (subscription required), where researchers conducted independent testing of 33 baby food products purchased in July 2022, and found that all but one tested positive for at least two toxic heavy metals.
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