WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group is urging Congressional leaders to quickly set mandatory limits on levels of toxic heavy metals in baby food, after a new House oversight panel report highlighted food companies’ failure to protect babies.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee in its September 29 report details failures by three top baby food producers to take adequate steps that would protect babies from toxic metals in what they eat. The report urges the Food and Drug Administration to accelerate issuing limits on those metals.
Several brands of widely sold baby foods have been found to be tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, according to an earlier subcommittee investigation. The panel examined internal test results and documents from four baby food brands, and found all four were tainted with heavy metals.
“This is what happens when you let the food and chemical companies, not the FDA, decide whether our food is safe to eat,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “For too long, the FDA has allowed food and chemical companies to exploit loopholes to taint our food with ‘forever chemicals,’ jet fuel and toxic metals like lead and arsenic.”
“Babies are highly vulnerable to the harmful effects of heavy metals which can damage their developing bodies, especially the brain,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG vice president for science investigations. “Strict safety standards for toxic metals and other food contaminants are necessary to protect the health of all children and the public health in our country.”
The FDA has pledged to propose draft limits for some toxic metals but has not said when it will set final limits for some metals, or when companies would have to meet these limits.
“It’s good that the FDA is finally proposing to propose limits on metals in baby food,” said Faber. “Setting draft levels will send a powerful signal to the food industry to do better. But proposing to propose is not the same as setting mandatory standards that baby food companies must meet.
“Parents should not have to wait -- and Congress should not wait, but instead set interim levels in the law that companies must meet right away.”
The FDA has proposed to draft levels for lead this year, draft levels for arsenic between 2022 and 2024, and draft levels for cadmium and mercury in 2024 or later. Final levels for lead would be set between 2022 and 2024, but final action levels for arsenic would not be set until 2024 or later.
By contrast, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation, the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, that would require the FDA to set tough interim limits for toxic metals in baby food within one year of enactment.
EWG recommends for parents look for a variety of baby foods and cereals, including a variety of grains, to help decrease the exposure to potentially elevated levels of arsenic in rice-based products. EWG also urges baby food manufacturers to conduct continuous testing of heavy metals in all their products and make all testing results publicly available.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.