The FDA Proposes New Limits on Lead in Baby Food

The agency believes the limits could reduce baby’s dietary exposure to lead by 27 percent. Research has shown high lead levels present in baby food can pose a risk of neurological damage and developmental delays.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated January 24, 2023
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When it comes to picking the best food for baby the options can be overwhelming. In an effort to ensure all the products available to parents are safe for baby, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing new guidelines to cut down on harmful toxic metals present in so many of America’s baby foods.

Research from nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) recently found toxic metals in 95 percent of store-bought baby food. One of the biggest offenders—lead.

Studies have shown children under two are especially vulnerable to lead, and its potential health effects. According to the FDA’s report, low levels of lead exposure in children can lead to “learning disabilities, behavior difficulties and lowered I.Q.” as well as immunological and cardiovascular effects.

While nonprofit groups and pediatricians have been working for years to educate parents on the lead levels in various baby food products, the FDA is now stepping in to take wide-sweeping federal action.

According to the announcement, the newly proposed guidelines would limit lead levels to:

  • 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 specifies that these limits apply to processed foods, such as food packaged in jars, pouches, tubs and boxes that are intended for children less than two years old.

“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24-27 percent reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, in the announcement.

The new limits represent a step forward in removing heavy metals from baby foods, but many believe that there is still much more to be done.

“Nearly all baby foods already meet the action levels the FDA lays out in this draft,” HBBF’s Research Director Jane Houlihan said in a release addressing the guidelines. In fact, only 16 of the over 1,000 baby foods the organization has tested have levels of lead that exceed the FDA’s proposed limits.

Houlihan adds that “grain-based snacks are not even covered, even though they account for 7 of the 10 highest lead levels we’ve seen in over 1,000 tests. If this proposal is finalized, the Closer to Zero promise of continually lowering limits over time will be vital to the health and safety of our babies.”

The FDA’s Closer to Zero action plan is focused on reducing dietary exposure to contaminants to as low as possible, while maintaining access to nutritious foods. Though admittedly a small step in this direction, this proposal will not only get some hazardous foods off shelves but it will also serve as an example for lowering heavy metal levels in other foods going forward.

Want to take steps toward better food for your baby now? Learn more about what pediatricians have to say about heavy metals in baby food, including how you can minimize your infant’s exposure to them.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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