Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new steps aimed at reducing the amount of lead in baby food. After recent reports found high levels of heavy metal toxins in both store-bought baby foods and homemade purees, the agency unveiled the new guidelines as part of its Closer to Zero Action Plan, which works to reduce children’s exposure to heavy metal toxins found in food. Including lead, arsenic, and cadmium.
The proposed limits aim to cap lead levels at 10 parts per billion in fruits, vegetables, yogurt and meat, and 20 parts per billion in root vegetables and dry infant cereals. The agency has yet to set specific targets for grain-based snacks like pretzels and crackers, which have been shown to be high in heavy metals across the board.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert M. Calif, MD, in a press release.
Since the draft directive is not yet mandatory, baby food manufacturers have time before they are required to comply. If the guidance is finalized after the 60-day public comment period, it will be enforceable, allowing the agency to recall or confiscate products or even recommend criminal prosecution. The new guidelines complement steps the agency took last year to regulate lead levels in juice and rice cereal.
Mixed response to new FDA levels of lead in baby foods
Even low levels of lead exposure in young children can be harmful, the guidelines explain, noting that exposure to lead during early childhood has been associated with developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavioral difficulties. “Because lead can accumulate in the body, chronic, low-level exposure can be dangerous over time,” the guideline authors say. But lead isn’t just a problem with early childhood brain development—other heavy metals like arsenic, which can be found in high levels in brown rice and brown rice-based products, can wreak havoc, too. Current guidelines do not address these other toxins.
Related: Report finds that heavy metal toxins abound in homemade baby food
Some experts praise the agency’s actions. “This is a really important advance for babies,” Scott Faber, vice president of public affairs for the Environmental Working Group, told The New York Times. “We were grateful that the Food and Drug Administration and the Biden administration had made reducing toxic metals in baby food a priority.”
But others think the steps are not drastic enough. “It’s not enough to protect babies from neurodevelopmental damage from lead exposure,” Jane Houlihan, director of research for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a nonprofit that released a report on lead in homemade baby food, told The Times. “Lead is in almost every baby food we tested, and the levels set by the FDA will not affect almost any of those foods.”
The newly proposed limits may address products with the largest amounts of lead found in third-party testing, Houlihan notes, but otherwise the majority of products could continue to be offered without changes.
How to reduce your child’s exposure to lead in baby food
It is difficult to reduce lead exposure without limiting the availability of certain foods, which can be rich in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that are essential for growth.
Lead and other heavy metals are found in the natural environment, which is why they are found in both store-bought products and homemade purees. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, for example, tend to be higher in lead and heavy metals because of how they were grown — in the soil. Peeling them before cooking is an option, but excluding all root vegetables from your child’s diet could mean they miss out on a good source of vitamin A and fibre, for example.
Related: 5 Tips on Making Safe, Brain-Boosting Baby Food at Home
To work to reduce your child’s exposure to lead and heavy metals in food, the key is to offer a variety of foods from a large number of sources, so that you don’t end up relying on a small number of choices that could be higher. in toxins than others.
“To support a child’s 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 Mayne, PhD. 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.”
What baby foods should you give or avoid to reduce lead exposure?
Here is a short list of what to introduce, limit and avoid when serving your baby food. If you have more questions, be sure to reach out to your pediatrician for further guidance. The Parent’s Guide from Healthy Babies Bright Futures is a good resource to reference as well.
Avoid any baby food products made from rice. Including white or brown rice, rice milk, brown rice syrup, or other rice products. Brown rice is a major source of inorganic arsenic based on how it is grown.
Avoid any baby cereal made from rice, Choose oats, barley, or a mixed grain instead.
Avoid rice snacks, rusks and bites
Dried fruits, especially raisins, are rarely offered
limit or rotate canned fruit, Choose fresh or frozen fruit instead
Cut back on cantaloupe and leafy greens or spin them like baby spinach. Avoid offering whole-grown spinach.
Avoid serving grape juice
Avoid serving peanut butter every day. Limit your serving of sunflower seed butter, which is high in cadmium.
limit or rotate root vegetables and tubers, Like sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets, peel them before cooking to remove potential surface contaminants. The report’s authors note: “We recommend that parents change the source by choosing from different brands, varieties or stores each week to avoid offering a source rich in the mineral too often.”
Advocate for change. Reach out to your representatives and government agencies to take drastic action and support strict restrictions on heavy metals in food.