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California Governor Newsom signs first-in-the nation bill requiring testing and disclosure of toxic heavy metals in baby food

New law requires food companies to publicly disclose heavy metal test results

SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumer Reports is praising California Governor Gavin Newsom today for signing a landmark new law requiring baby food manufacturers to test their products for dangerous heavy metals and to post the results on their web sites. The first-in-the-nation law, introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, aims to protect infants and toddlers from toxic levels of heavy metals that have been found in baby food products many parents rely on every day.

“The last thing parents expect to find in baby food are toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead that can threaten their child’s health and well-being,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “California’s new law fills a critical gap in the FDA’s efforts to reduce heavy metals in baby food. By requiring food companies to test their products and post the results online, it will encourage them to get dangerous levels of heavy metals out of their products and help keep babies safe and healthy.”

Beginning in 2024, the new law requires food manufacturers to test a representative sample of each of their products every month for arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury and to provide the results to the California Department of Health upon request. Under the law, the test results must be made publicly available on the manufacturer’s website beginning in 2025 and disclosed through a QR code on the product’s label if the Food and Drug Administration establishes an action level limit for one of the toxic elements.

While the FDA’s Close to Zero Initiative sets action levels for these toxic elements, it does not require final product testing to determine if manufacturers are complying with those limits. The FDA does not require companies to disclose test results to consumers.

A 2021 House Oversight Subcommittee investigation based on internal baby food company documents found that “[t]op baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury and that manufacturers “routinely ignore internal standards and continue to sell products with higher heavy metal levels.”

In 2018, Consumer Reports analyzed 50 nationally distributed packaged foods made for babies and toddlers, checking for lead and other heavy metals considered to be the most harmful to human health. About two-thirds of the products (34) contained concerning levels of lead, cadmium and/or inorganic arsenic; 15 of them would pose a risk to a child who ate one serving or less per day. CR found that snacks and products containing rice and/or sweet potatoes were particularly likely to have high levels of heavy metals.

Exposure at an early age to even small amounts of heavy metals, including lead, may increase the risk of several health problems, especially lower IQ and behavior problems, and have been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A 2018 study in the journal Lancet Public Health suggests even low levels of lead from food and other sources contribute to 400,000 deaths each year, more than half of them from cardiovascular disease.

Governor Newsom signed another groundbreaking food safety law last Saturday that bans four additives from food produced and sold in the state. The California Food Safety Act is the first law in the U.S. that bans the four harmful chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems such as hyperactivity, nervous system damage and an increased risk of cancer. Given the size of the California market, the state’s ban will likely prompt manufacturers to remove the toxic chemicals from food sold throughout the country.

Michael McCauley, muichael.mccauley@consumer.org