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Baby Food Safety Act of 2021: Why Didn’t FDA Regulate Heavy Metals Sooner?

Baby Food Safety Act of 2021: Why Didn’t FDA Regulate Heavy Metals Sooner?

A congressional report found that several popular baby food manufacturers overlooked high levels of toxic heavy metals in their products.

A group of US lawmakers today will introduce The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, legislation that would limit the level of toxic heavy metals in baby food. The act will set maximum levels of mercury, lead, inorganic arsenic and cadmium in baby food and cereal, and require manufacturers to comply within one year.

The Baby Food Safety Act comes just over a month after a congressional committee report emerged detailing the levels of toxic heavy metals in baby food. The reaction from parents was swift and class action lawsuits were filed against various manufacturers, including Beech-Nut, Gerber and Campbell. In one lawsuit against Beech-Nut, which sells baby food marketed as “organic” and “natural,” the company is accused of failing to inform consumers about the presence of heavy metals in its baby foods.

Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration does not set limits on heavy metals in most baby foods. It does, however, regulate toxins in other consumer products including arsenic, lead and cadmium, and the agency previously declared them dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children. Following the congressional report, the FDA announced plans to limit the amount of heavy metals in baby food, but advocates said that without more detail, it’s difficult to know what this would entail.

Earlier this month, four Democrats decided to take matters into their own hands and draft legislation that would strengthen regulations for baby food. While the FDA has received the legislation for technical review, the lawmakers want the agency to use its existing authority and oversight to take more rigorous action.

Related: The Rise of Baby Food Delivery Boxes

Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the bill’s authors, said in a press release, “It’s unacceptable that despite parents’ best efforts to keep their children safe, some leading baby food manufacturers have put products on the market that expose children to dangerous toxins. This legislation will protect children and ensure they get a healthy start by holding manufacturers accountable for removing toxins out of infant and toddler foods. I’ll keep fighting to give parents the peace of mind they deserve.”

While heavy metals do occur naturally in some vegetables and grains, the amount can be increased by manufacturers when adding other tainted ingredients to baby food. The congressional report said that while some companies test individual ingredients, they rarely test their final products for contaminants before shipping them out.

The introduction of the Baby Food Safety Act will require heavy metal levels to be lowered further within two years under FDA guidance, and after three years, the agency will regulate those levels. It will also require manufacturers to test not just the ingredients, but the final products, for toxic heavy metals and post the findings online.

In August 2020, the FDA finalized guidance for baby food industry, setting an action level of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. The guidance also noted that inorganic arsenic has been associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children. But the new Baby Food Safety Act would limit the toxin to no more than 15 parts per billion for cereal, a notable drop from the FDA’s guidance of 10 parts per billion in baby food.

The bill will be introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Duckworth and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tony Cárdenas.

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