Statement: FDA plans new limits on lead in baby food

Media Contacts

WASHINGTON — Nearly two years after announcing an effort to reduce heavy metals in baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday issued draft guidelines to reduce levels of lead in foods intended for children less than 2 years old. Lead and other toxic metals in food can cause brain damage and neurological impairment in young children.

The proposal calls for levels of lead not to exceed 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, mixtures (including grain and meat-based mixtures), yogurt,  custards/puddings, single-ingredient meats and vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables). The limit would be 20 ppb for dry cereals and single-ingredient root vegetables. The guidelines cover processed baby and toddler food that comes in jars, tubs, pouches or boxes. 

The FDA announcement is part of its Closer to Zero plan, unveiled in 2021, to reduce levels of lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium to the lowest levels possible in food for babies and toddlers. Lead can’t be completely eliminated from most food because it’s found in the soil, water and air

In response, PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog Teresa Murray issued the following statement:

“The FDA said Tuesday it’s been working for more than 30 years to reduce the exposure of food to lead and other toxics, and that has led to a ‘dramatic decline’ in lead in food. That’s great. But given everything physicians and scientists know about the irreversible damage caused when young children are exposed to toxic metals, why wasn’t this a priority long ago? And why did it take a kick in the pants from Congress? 

“The agency’s Closer to Zero plan came out a month after a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee released a report in February 2021 that found four of the seven largest baby food manufacturers had been selling baby food with potentially dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals. 

“The FDA estimates its new lead limits could reduce exposure to lead from these foods by 24% to 27%. Over what period of time? Babies don’t have time. Those of us with children know they grow up fast. The FDA should adopt and enforce the new limits as soon as possible.”

The FDA will accept public comments on its proposed limits through March 27, 2023.