FDA wants to limit lead in baby food

feeding baby
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The Food and Drug Administration is proposing maximum limits for the amount of lead in baby foods, like mashed fruits and vegetables.

The move comes after years of studies revealed that many processed products contain levels known to pose a risk of neurological and developmental impairment.

The guidelines, if adopted, would allow the agency to take enforcement action against companies that produced foods that exceeded the new limits.

"For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in [the] draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24-27% reduction in exposure to lead from these foods," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement.

Foods covered by the proposed limits include processed foods packaged in jars, pouches, tubs and boxes, intended for babies and young children less than two years old.

The new limits do not address grain-based snacks that have also been found to contain high levels of heavy metals.

The draft guidance contains the following action levels:
• 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables), mixtures (including grain and meat-based mixtures), yogurts, custards/puddings and single-ingredient meats
• 20 ppb for root vegetables (single ingredient)
• 20 ppb for dry cereals

The FDA said different foods have differing action levels to account for variances in consumption levels and due to some foods taking up higher amounts of lead from the environment.

"The action levels in [the] draft guidance are not intended to direct consumers in making food choices. To support child growth and development, we recommend parents and caregivers feed children a varied and nutrient-dense diet across and within the main food groups of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein foods," said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "This approach helps your children get important nutrients and may reduce potential harmful effects from exposure to contaminants from foods that take up contaminants from the environment."

The FDA noted that the presence of lead does not mean the food is unsafe to eat, and that it is not possible to remove the contaminant entirely from the food supply. However, the agency expects "the recommended action levels will cause manufacturers to implement agricultural and processing measures to lower lead levels in their food products below the proposed action levels, thus reducing the potential harmful effects associated with dietary lead exposures."

While the guidance only applies to lead, the FDA said it will continue to gather data and collaborate with federal partners to establish limits for arsenic, cadmium and mercury -- all of which have been found in elevated levels in baby food.

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