The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this past week its intention to take action to reduce toxic heavy metals in manufactured baby food. The federal agency is finalizing a comprehensive plan to further reduce levels of toxic elements in foods for babies and young children.
Baby food manufacturers were notified by the FDA that the agency will be utilizing its existing authority under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Manufacturers of baby food will be expected to institute preventative controls for heavy metals. They were also notified that more extensive regulatory standards will be developed for the first time in history.
This action by the FDA on toxic heavy metals in baby foods was prompted by a far-reaching Congressional Report released last month by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives which has very broad authority to investigate the subjects within the Committee’s legislative jurisdiction as well as any matter within the jurisdiction of the other standing House Committees.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform (Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, New York) has six subcommittees: (i) Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; (ii) Economic and Consumer Policy; (iii) Environment; (iv) Government Operations; (v) National Security; and (vi) Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Its subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy (Chair Roger Krishnamoorthi, Illinois) released an investigative report of 59 pages by its staff last month with findings that baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals that endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.
The Congressional subcommittee’s report spotlighted the special position of public trust held by baby food manufacturers. Chairman Krishnamoorth emphasized that baby food manufacturers knowingly sell baby food containing high levels of toxic heavy metals. He further noted that it’s time that we develop much better standards for the sake of future generations.
The subcommittee’s findings include: (i) Top baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury; (ii) Industry self-regulation fails to protect consumers as manufacturers set their own dangerously high internal standards for toxic heavy metal levels; (iii) Manufacturers routinely ignore internal standards and continue to sell products with higher heavy metal levels; and (iv) manufacturers’ prevalent practice of only testing their ingredients is concealing higher levels of toxic metal in finished baby foods.
The Congressional subcommittee’s report stems from a 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), an alliance of nonprofit organizations, scientists and donors that designs and implements outcomes-based programs to measurably reduce babies’ exposures to toxic chemicals in the first 1,000 days of development. Nearly 50 partners participate in the HBBF alliance including the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the National League of Cities, Columbia Center For Children’s Environmental Health of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and the Environmental Working Group.
In its 2019 study, HBBF found that 95 percent of tested baby foods contain toxic chemicals that lower babies’ IQ, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Though these four harmful metals are found in all food, the study noted that their presence in baby food raises unique concern, because babies are more sensitive to the toxic impacts.
For 80 percent less toxic metal residue, the HBBF study suggested these five safer baby food choices: (1) Rice-free snacks, avoiding rice puff snacks; (2) Frozen banana or chilled cucumber as soothing foods for teething, instead of teething biscuits and rice rusks; (3) Multi-grain and oatmeal infant cereals, instead of infant rice cereal; (4) Tap water, instead of fruit juice; (5) A variety of fruits and veggies, including carrots, sweet potatoes, and other choices instead of only carrots and sweet potatoes.
(Frank W. Barrie, 3/13/21)