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Consumer Reports supports congressional bill to limit heavy metals in baby food

Bill requires FDA to adopt strict limits on heavy metals that pose serious health risks for infants and children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lawmakers in Congress will introduce legislation on Friday that will help protect infants and children by setting strict limits on toxic heavy metals in baby foods. Consumer Reports is urging lawmakers to support the bill given its own tests and research by others showing concerning levels of heavy metals in baby food that can pose serious health problems in children over time.

“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. “Unfortunately, manufacturers and the FDA have failed to protect vulnerable infants and toddlers from dangerous heavy metals that are commonly found in popular baby foods. This bill will help keep babies safe and healthy by reducing their exposure to toxic metals in the food many parents rely on and serve every day.”

Exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals at an early age may increase the risk of several health problems, especially lower IQ and behavior problems, and has been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, introduced by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Duckworth, and Representative Tony Cardenas, requires the FDA to establish separate action levels for baby cereal and all other baby foods for cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, and mercury. An action level is a limit above which the FDA would take action to remove a product from the market. The FDA currently has an action level of 100 parts per billion (ppb) – far higher than what the bill proposes. There are no FDA limits on other heavy metals in baby food.

The initial action levels proposed in the bill are 15 ppb for inorganic arsenic in baby cereals and 10 ppb for other baby foods; 10 ppb for cadmium and lead in baby cereals, and 5 ppb for other baby foods; and 2 ppb of mercury for baby food and baby cereals. These levels would go into effect two years after the bill is signed into law.

The bill would require these levels to be lowered further within two years of the bill’s enactment, and lowered to “levels protective of infant and toddler neurological development, taking into account the most sensitive testing available” within three years.

Representative Krishnamoorthi introduced his bill just weeks after the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which he chairs, issued a report finding alarming levels of heavy metals in popular baby foods. The report noted that some manufacturers knew of the high levels of heavy metal contamination and still sold the products.

In 2018, Consumer Reports’ food safety team analyzed 50 nationally distributed packaged foods made for babies and toddlers, checking for cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic, the type most harmful to health.  CR’s tests found that about two-thirds (68 percent) had worrisome levels of at least one heavy metal. Fifteen of the foods would pose potential health risks to a child regularly eating just one serving or less per day. Snacks and products containing rice and/or sweet potatoes were particularly likely to have high levels of heavy metals.