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Consumer Safety

FDA seeks to limit lead in baby food

US effort aims to reduce exposure to the toxic heavy metal as much as possible

by Britt E. Erickson
January 25, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 4


A baby food jar with carrot puree and a spoon.
Credit: Shutterstock
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 20 ppb lead in baby food made from carrots and other root vegetables.

The US Food and Drug Administration is recommending limits for lead in processed baby food. The action comes nearly 2 years after a Congressional report revealed that many foods consumed by babies and young children contain harmful levels of toxic heavy metals.

The proposed guidelines would limit lead to 10 parts per billion (ppb) for most baby foods packaged in jars, pouches, tubs, and boxes. But root vegetables and dry cereals would be limited to 20 ppb of lead.

“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24–27% reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf says in a press release.

In April 2022, the FDA recommended limits of 10 ppb for lead in apple juice and 20 ppb for lead in other juices. The actions are part of the agency’s Closer to Zero effort, which aims to reduce lead to the lowest levels possible in foods commonly eaten by young children.

Lead and other metals are taken up by fruits, vegetables, and grains from contaminated soil. “Although it is not possible to remove these elements entirely from the food supply, we expect that the recommended action levels will cause manufacturers to implement agricultural and processing measures to lower lead levels in their food products below the proposed action levels,” the FDA says in the press release.

Consumer Reports calls the FDA’s lead limits in baby food “an encouraging first step.” But the advocacy group urges the agency to lower them to protect children’s health. “It appears that the proposed standards were set based more on current industry feasibility to achieve the limits and not solely on levels that would best protect public health,” Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports, says in a statement.

The FDA announced the lead limits for baby food one day after Consumer Reports petitioned four leading chocolate manufacturers to reduce lead in their products. Late last year, the group tested 28 dark chocolate bars for heavy metals and found dangerous levels of lead and cadmium in many of them.



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