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The Food and Drug Administration is focusing on lead levels in baby foods

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced draft guidance for industry on “actionable levels” for lead in processed foods intended for infants and children under 2, with the goal of reducing the potential health effects of this vulnerable population from dietary exposure. to lead.

According to the FDA, the proposed “action levels” would result in a significant reduction in lead exposure from food while ensuring the availability of nutritious foods. Routing is part of Closer to ZeroAnd which outlines the FDA’s science-based approach to consistently reducing exposure to lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury to the lowest possible levels in foods eaten by infants and young children.

Consumer Reports (CR) called the FDA’s proposed limits on lead in processed foods for young children an encouraging first step, but said stricter restrictions are needed to protect this vulnerable population. CR is calling on the FDA to strengthen the proposed limits as it finalizes the standard in the coming months.

“We are encouraged that the FDA has proposed these new standards, but clearly more needs to be done to reduce exposure to toxic lead and protect infants and young children,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “The FDA should place strict limits on so-called baby junk foods — grain-based snacks like pancakes, rusks and chips — since these foods typically have the highest levels of lead.”

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Calif, MD, said the agency has worked for more than 30 years to reduce exposure to lead and other contaminants from food. The commissioner says the FDA’s work has led to a significant decrease since the mid-1980s in lead exposure from foods.

“For infants and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidelines, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in a 24-27 percent reduction in lead exposure from these foods,” Kalev added.

The foods covered by the draft guidance, Working Levels for Lead in Foods for Babies and Young Children, are those foods that are processed, such as foods packed in jars, bags, tubs, and boxes intended for infants and young children under two years of age. The mentoring project contains the following levels of work:

  • 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables), mixtures (including cereals and meat mixtures), and yogurt. Custard/pudding and single-ingredient meats.
  • 20 ppb for root vegetables (1 ingredient).
  • 20 ppb for dry grain.

Consumer Reports, which has long been involved in these issues, said the FDA has not suggested limits for grain-based snacks. Under FDA draft guidance announced Tuesday, CR said the agency is proposing the following working levels for lead in processed foods for infants and young children: 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits and vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables) and mixtures (including This includes cereal mixes, meats, yogurts, custards/puddings, and single-ingredient meats); 20 ppb for root vegetables (one ingredient); and 20 ppb for dry grain.

“The proposed standards appear to have been established based on the industry’s current viability of achieving limits and not just at levels that would best protect public health,” said Ronholm. The FDA should encourage the industry to work harder to reduce dangerous lead and other heavy metals in baby food given how vulnerable young children are to exposure to toxins. We look forward to working with the FDA to build on this proposal and to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate toxic heavy metals in baby food.”

In 2018, Consumer Reports analyzed 50 nationally distributed packaged foods made for babies and young children, checking for the presence of lead and other heavy metals considered most harmful to human health. About two-thirds of the products — 34 — contain levels of lead, cadmium, and/or inorganic arsenic; 15 of them are dangerous for a child who eats one serving or less per day. CR found that snacks and products containing rice and/or sweet potatoes are particularly likely to contain high levels of heavy metals.

Exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals, including lead, at a young age may increase the risk of many health problems, especially low IQ and behavior problems, and this has been linked to autism and ADHD. A 2018 study in The Lancet Public Health notes that low levels of lead from food and other sources contribute to 400,000 deaths each year, more than half of which are from cardiovascular disease.

The Food and Drug Administration considers these levels of action achievable when measures are taken to reduce the presence of lead and expects that industry will strive to continually reduce this contaminant. Baby foods have different levels of action, to account for differences in consumption levels of different food products and because some foods take in higher amounts of lead from the environment. Action levels are one of the regulatory tools used by the Food and Drug Administration to help lower levels of chemical contaminants in foods when a certain level of contaminants is unavoidable, for example, due to environmental factors. To determine action levels for food categories, the agency considered, among other factors, the level of lead that could be in a food without food exposure exceeding the FDA’s provisional reference level, which is a measure of the contribution of lead in food to blood lead levels.

Just as fruits, vegetables, and grain crops readily absorb vital nutrients from the environment, these foods also absorb pollutants, such as lead, that can be harmful to health. However, the presence of a contaminant does not mean that the food is unsafe to eat. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates the level of contaminants in food and exposure based on consumption to determine if the food presents a potential health risk. Although it is not possible to completely eliminate these elements from the food supply, we expect that recommended action levels will lead to manufacturers implementing agricultural and processing measures to reduce lead levels in their food products below suggested action levels, thereby minimizing potential harmful effects associated with exposure. lead food.

Although the FDA is not obligated, it will consider these levels of action, as well as other factors, when considering enforcement action in a particular case.

“The levels of action in today’s draft guidance are not intended to guide consumers in making food choices. To support child growth and development, we recommend that parents and caregivers feed children a varied, nutrient-dense diet across and within the major food groups of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein foods,” said Susan. Maine, Ph.D. Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “This approach helps your children get important nutrients and may reduce potentially harmful effects from exposure to contaminants from foods that absorb contaminants from the environment.”

As part of our approach, as laid out in 2021 when the FDA issued Closer to Zero, the agency is committed to evaluating whether action levels should be reduced even further, based on cutting-edge science on health effects, mitigation techniques, and input from industry on Realizability. We expect the draft working levels announced today, along with the draft working levels for lead in juice announced in 2022, to result in lower levels of lead in the US food supply.

Going forward, the agency will continue to collect data and collaborate with federal partners to establish the scientific basis for establishing interim reference levels for arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is examining more than 1,100 comments it received in November 2021 during a public meeting titled “Closer to Zero Action Plan: Effects of Toxic Exposure and Nutrition on Various Developmental Stages Critical to Toddlers and Young Children” to inform its strategy move. Forward to future planned action on pollutants and to promote participation, education and exchange of public data and information.

The FDA will host a webinar to provide an overview of the draft guidance and answer stakeholder questions. More details about the webinar will be announced soon.

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