Friday, June 18, 2021

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Biden's FDA takes baby steps toward limiting toxic heavy metals in commercial baby foods


WASHINGTON - In the wake of a congressional report last month that found the presence of toxic metals at high levels in many baby foods, the Biden administration Friday announced the first steps aimed at reducing arsenic, lead and other toxins in baby and toddler products.

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The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that it will identify maximum safe limits of contaminants in commercial food for babies and toddlers, finalize guidance on reducing inorganic arsenic in apple juice and publish draft guidance on setting maximum lead levels in juices.

The FDA statement also said the agency will increase inspections and testing of baby and toddler foods for heavy metals and make public the results. It will support research that identifies "additional steps that industry can take to further reduce levels," the agency said in a statement.

The guidance marks a first step toward expanding FDA oversight over commercial baby food.

As of now, the agency has only set legal limits on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.

Members of Congress and advocacy groups said they were concerned the announcement didn't go far enough and was vague about the measures the FDA would be taking around inspections and establishing legal limits for toxins in baby food.

"I'm glad the FDA was responsive to our report and cited it as prompting their action. However, I have a couple of concerns," Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy that released last month's report, told The Washington Post.

Krishnamoorthi, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., has drafted the Baby Food Safety Act, which urges the FDA to use its existing authority to regulate toxic heavy metal content in baby food to protect infant health and safety.

"One is that there's no timeline and there's no clear commitment to removing toxic heavy metals from baby food," Krishnamoorthi said. "And frankly, I'm concerned about their tone. I don't see a sense of urgency. Perhaps they aren't understanding the level of outrage among parents."

Peter Lurie, the president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Friday's announcement was "a more forward-looking response that we would have gotten three months ago."

"There's an opportunity here to take real action on a public health problem," he said. "Pronouncements are fine. But at the end of the day the agency has to be evaluated by the final actions it takes."

The FDA said it will ramp up the availability of consumer information and resources that underscore the importance of a varied diet: A single baby food with high levels of a metal like lead would pose less of a threat to a baby who eats a broad array of foods.

Many nutrition experts caution parents about eschewing commercial baby food entirely to make food from fruits and vegetables at home.

The FDA said toxic elements are present in the air, water and soil, and therefore unavoidable in the general food supply.

Krishnamoorthi said this is only partially true.

"[The FDA] says these heavy metals are naturally occurring in soils, but that is disingenuous. There are several other man-made sources like vitamin additives or fertilizers in soil. You can't say baby food has to be this way," he said.

Published : March 06, 2021

By : Laura Reiley The Washington Post