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Daily News Blog

15
Mar

Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals in Baby Food; USDA and FDA Must Act!

(Beyond Pesticides, March 15, 2021) A staff report produced for the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives has documented substantial levels of the heavy metals arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in infant foods. The researchers examined organic as well as nonorganic brands, finding contamination of both. They found that heavy metals were present in both crop-based ingredients and additives. However, many unknowns remain regarding the precise origin of the metals.

Tell FDA and USDA to get heavy metals out of baby food!

Two U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar, D-MN and Tammy Duckworth, D-IL) and two U.S. Representatives (Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL and Tony Cardenas, D-CA) have drafted legislation to strengthen regulations for infant food safety, but meanwhile want the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use existing authority to take immediate action. The National Organic Program should also take action to ensure that parents can depend on organic baby food to be the best possible.

Heavy metals can have serious health impacts, especially on young children. As stated in the report,

Children’s exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior.

Babies’ developing brains are “exceptionally sensitive to injury caused by toxic chemicals, and several developmental processes have been shown to be highly vulnerable to chemical toxicity.” The fact that babies are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more of the heavy metals than adults, exacerbates their risk from exposure to heavy metals.

Exposure to heavy metals at this developmental stage can lead to “untreatable and frequently permanent” brain damage, which may result in “reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior.” For example, a recent study estimates that exposure to environmental chemicals, including lead, are associated with 40,131,518 total IQ points loss in 25.5 million children (or roughly 1.57 lost IQ points per child)—more than thetotal IQ losses associated with preterm birth (34,031,025), brain tumors (37,288), and traumatic brain injury (5,827,300) combined. For every one IQ point lost, it is estimated that a child’s lifetime earning capacity will be decreased by $18,000.

Because heavy metal contamination occurs in organic as well as nonorganic baby foods and in food ingredients as well as additives such as vitamin mixtures, it is important to discover the sources from which heavy metals enter the food. Some sources are known—it is known that some vitamin mixes are contaminated. It is known that rice—especially brown rice—contains arsenic as a result of historical use of arsenic pesticides and the fact that rice concentrates arsenic. Other sources are more speculative, but there are three main possible sources—pesticide residues in agricultural products, food contact with processing machinery and containers, and food additives. Growing food organically eliminates additions to the heavy metal burden of soils but does not eliminate existing residues in the soil and environment generally. Organic processing standards must be strengthened to address problems associated with food contact contaminants and contaminated additives. While background levels and action levels set by  FDA standards are one measure, under the Organic Foods Production Act, the National Organic Standards Board must set its own standards for contaminants of added substances in organic food production and processing, taking into account background levels in the environment.

After decades of polluting practices in agricultural production under risk assessment standards that allowed contamination at “acceptable levels,” we have a legacy problem with background contamination of farmland. As a result, manufacturers of processed food may not be able to source ingredients without these unacceptable contaminants. Therefore, we need to first define the scope of the problem and then consider remediation measures that may be needed on the agricultural land used to grow crops that are ingredients in baby food and the food supply generally.

With the problem fully defined, we can launch a national clean-up program—from farmers to processors and packagers—to eliminate the contamination from the food supply. As a part of this national program, FDA must set strict regulations on heavy metal concentrations in finished products. As a goal, Consumer Reports (CR) has suggested that FDA:

Establish aggressive targets: Set a goal of having no measurable amounts of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead in baby and children’s food.

Create and enforce benchmarks: To reach its goals in baby and children’s food, FDA should set incremental targets for industry to meet along the way.

Finalize existing proposed guidelines: FDA should limit inorganic arsenic in apple juice to 10 ppb and revise existing guidance for lead in fruit juice to reduce the limit from 50 to 5 ppb.

Tell FDA and USDA to get heavy metals out of baby food!

Letter to FDA Commissioner

A staff report produced for the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives has documented substantial levels of the heavy metals arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in infant foods. The researchers examined organic as well as nonorganic brands, finding contamination of both. They found that heavy metals were present in both crop-based ingredients and additives. However, many unknowns remain regarding the precise origin of the metals.

Heavy metals can have serious health impacts, especially on young children. As stated in the report,

Children’s exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior.

Babies’ developing brains are “exceptionally sensitive to injury caused by toxic chemicals, and several developmental processes have been shown to be highly vulnerable to chemical toxicity.” The fact that babies are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more of the heavy metals than adults, exacerbates their risk from exposure to heavy metals.

Exposure to heavy metals at this developmental stage can lead to “untreatable and frequently permanent” brain damage, which may result in “reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior.” For example, a recent study estimates that exposure to environmental chemicals, including lead, are associated with 40,131,518 total IQ points loss in 25.5 million children (or roughly 1.57 lost IQ points per child)—more than the total IQ losses associated with preterm birth (34,031,025), brain tumors (37,288), and traumatic brain injury (5,827,300) combined. For every one IQ point lost, it is estimated that a child’s lifetime earning capacity will be decreased by $18,000.

Because heavy metal contamination occurs in organic as well as nonorganic baby foods and in food ingredients as well as additives such as vitamin mixtures, it is important to discover the sources from which heavy metals enter the food. Some sources are known—it is known that some vitamin mixes are contaminated. It is known that rice—especially brown rice—contains arsenic as a result of historical use of arsenic pesticides and the fact that rice concentrates arsenic. Other sources are more speculative, but there are three main possible sources—pesticide residues in agricultural products, food contact with processing machinery and containers, and food additives. Growing food organically eliminates additions to the heavy metal burden of soils but does not eliminate existing residues. Organic processing standards have not yet caught up with the problems of food contact contaminants and contaminated additives and rely to some extent on FDA standards.

It is important to motivate those involved in baby food manufacture—from farmers to processors and packagers—to eliminate known sources of contamination. This can be accomplished with strict FDA regulations on heavy metal concentrations in finished products. I urge you to take these steps to protect children from hazardous heavy metals:

Establish aggressive targets: Set a goal of having no measurable amounts of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead in baby and children’s food.

Create and enforce benchmarks: To reach its goals in baby and children’s food, FDA should insist that manufacturers follow recognized best practices and set incremental targets for industry to meet along the way.

Finalize existing proposed guidelines: FDA should limit inorganic arsenic in apple juice to 10 ppb and revise existing guidance for lead in fruit juice to reduce the limit from 50 to 5 ppb.

Thank you for your consideration.

Letter to National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator and USDA Secretary:

I am writing because I am concerned about the report produced for the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives that documented substantial levels of the heavy metals arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in infant foods, including organic products. Heavy metals can have serious health impacts, especially on young children. As stated in the report,

Children’s exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior.

Babies’ developing brains are “exceptionally sensitive to injury caused by toxic chemicals, and several developmental processes have been shown to be highly vulnerable to chemical toxicity.” The fact that babies are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more of the heavy metals than adults, exacerbates their risk from exposure to heavy metals.

Exposure to heavy metals at this developmental stage can lead to “untreatable and frequently permanent” brain damage, which may result in “reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior.” For example, a recent study estimates that exposure to environmental chemicals, including lead, are associated with 40,131,518 total IQ points loss in 25.5 million children (or roughly 1.57 lost IQ points per child)—more than the total IQ losses associated with preterm birth (34,031,025), brain tumors (37,288), and traumatic brain injury (5,827,300) combined. For every one IQ point lost, it is estimated that a child’s lifetime earning capacity will be decreased by $18,000.

The heavy metal contamination occurs regardless of organic production and processing methods. Organic standards are based on practices rather than purity, but consumers do expect that organic foods will be free of hazardous contaminants. Therefore, regardless of actions that may be taken by Congress or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affecting foods in general or baby foods in general, the National Organic Program (NOP) should, to the extent possible, ensure that organic food, especially infant food, is free from heavy metal contamination.

To this end, NOP must work with the National Organic Standards Board to eliminate, as much as possible heavy metal contamination arising from:

  1. Organic crop and livestock production practices and the land;
  2. National List ingredients;
  3. Processing and handling processes; and
  4. Packaging materials.

Thank you for your consideration.

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One Response to “Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals in Baby Food; USDA and FDA Must Act!”

  1. 1
    Amy Swick Says:

    Most people would not even know that these heavy metals are in baby food. They would certainly not want to knowingly give their babies these toxins.

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