Statement: New FDA plan to reduce toxic metal in baby food falls short

Media Contacts

Agency may study risks for years while children continue to be harmed

US PIRG Education Fund

WASHINGTON — A month after announcing a weak plan to reduce heavy metals in baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new plan Thursday aimed at making baby food safer over the next several years.

The FDA’s new “Closer to Zero” plan aims to get toxic substances such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury to “as low as possible” levels. 

The FDA has been playing catch-up ever since the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee released a report in February that found four of the seven largest baby food manufacturers have been selling baby food with potentially dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals. 

Under the recently announced plan, the earliest guidance level on lead would not be finalized for at least a year, although the FDA said that timeline could easily stretch on for two years or even longer.

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

“The FDA wants to make baby food safer over time. Babies don’t have time to wait for the FDA to adopt stronger regulations that should have been in place years and years ago. Those of us who have children know they grow up fast. How many more babies will suffer potentially permanent brain damage or neurological impairment because they ate toxic baby food — food their parents thought was good for them?

“The name ‘Closer to Zero’ does sound better than its last plan a month ago, which was so bad it didn’t even have a name. It’s absurd to have any toxic substances in baby food.

“Now the FDA says exposure to toxic elements such as arsenic and lead in food depends on the levels of the elements in the air, water and soil, the type of food, and the agricultural and production processes. The agency proposes taking up to a year — until April 2022 — to study the issues surrounding arsenic and lead.

“We are more encouraged by the proposed Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 introduced in Congress last month. This legislation would limit arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury and would require compliance within one year, not a multi-year, open-ended process as the FDA has proposed. 

“The Baby Food Safety Act would also require manufacturers to test their final product, not just individual ingredients. The current testing requirements significantly underestimate the levels of toxic heavy metals. Companies should be posting product testing results online at least twice per year. Right now, there’s absolutely no accountability or transparency. Our children deserve better.”