On Tuesday, 24th January 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new limits on lead in baby food. This is done to reduce exposure to toxins that can damage childhood development.
The lead limits apply to processed food consumed by children younger than two years. Dr. Robert Califf, FDA Commissioner, said the limit would reduce lead exposure from foods by about 27%. But, the proposed lead limits are not binding on the industry. However, the FDA said that it would use them as a factor for deciding to take enforcement action against any company for selling contaminated food.
The FDA Proposal
The agency proposed the lead concentration limits for baby food as follows:
10 ppb or parts per billion for vegetables, fruits, yogurts, puddings, custards, mixtures, and single-ingredient meats. This will reduce exposure by 26 percent.
20 ppb or parts per billion for root vegetables. This will reduce exposure by 27 percent.
20 ppb or parts per billion for dry cereals. This will reduce exposure by 24 percent.
Why is this important
Lead is toxic and dangerous for young children. It can damage brain development and also the nervous system. This may result in learning disabilities and behavioral difficulties. However, according to the FDA, Lead exposure through food amongst children ages 1 to 3 has declined 97 percent since the 1980s. Though progress was made over the years, the FDA launched an effort in 2021 to reduce the levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in children’s food to the greatest extent possible.
In this way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has drafted this guidance for the industry on action levels to limit lead in processed foods. This limit is intended for babies and children under two years of age. It is to help reduce the potential health effects in the vulnerable population from dietary exposure to lead. The proposed action levels shall result in reduced exposure to lead from food. At the same time, it will also ensure the availability of nutritious foods. The FDA’s action is part of ‘Closer to Zero,’ which sets forth the science-based approach of the FDA to continually reduce exposure to lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury to the lowest levels possible in foods for babies and young children.
Dr. Robert M. Califf, FDA Commissioner, further said that the FDA has been working for more than 30 years to reduce exposure to lead and other environmental contaminants in foods. Its work has resulted in a remarkable decline in lead exposure from foods since the 1980s. The proposed action levels proclaimed, along with their continued work with the state and federal partners and with the industry and growers to identify mitigation strategies, will finally result in sustainable, long-term, and meaningful reductions in exposure to food contaminants. The FDA has estimated that these action levels can result in about a 24% to 27% reduction in exposure to lead for young children and babies from foods who eat the foods covered in the present draft guidance.