FDA Responds to Discussions Regarding Toxic Elements in Baby Foods

On Friday, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it issued a letter to manufacturers of baby and toddler foods reminding them of “their existing responsibility to consider the risks from chemical hazards, including toxic elements,” as part of a constituent update reporting on what the government body is doing to reduce harmful substances in foods for babies and young children. 

“We share the public’s concerns for the health of America’s children,” the announcement said, “and want to reassure parents and caregivers that at the levels we have found through our testing, children are not at an immediate health risk from exposure to toxic elements in foods.” 

The FDA explained in its update to the public that since toxic elements are in the environment, they also end up in the food supply. The update said that growing conditions, environmental contamination, manufacturing processes, and the genetic make-up of the foods contribute to the presence of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium in some foods. The FDA did state in its update that “reducing exposure to toxic elements is important to minimiz(e) any potential long-term effects on the developing brains of infants and children,” and that the issue is a high priority to the FDA. The agency said it is working on altering systems to make the food consumed by babies and children safer. 

The report was published about one month after a House Subcommittee report showed “dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals” in baby foods produced by some of the largest baby food companies. The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, part of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked the FDA to set uniform standards for heavy metal levels that baby food companies would need to follow. This report also led to multiple lawsuits against baby food companies for allowing toxic elements into baby foods and for misrepresenting the health of their products. 

In the letter to baby food manufacturers, the FDA shared information about chemicals and metals in food and about the FDA’s steps to reduce exposure to toxic elements through food, citing its steps to stop a juice company from continuing to sell products containing arsenic earlier this year. The FDA said it is “taking this opportunity to remind all baby and toddler food manufacturers and processors” of current regulations and hazard analysis responsibilities as a response to the subcommittee report. 

In the announcement, the FDA said it does not advise parents to throw out packaged baby foods or to stop feeding them to children, saying that eliminating food groups could result in nutrient deficiencies. “For parents who choose to make their own baby foods, it is important to know that this is not likely to reduce potential exposure to toxic elements in baby foods and may instead result in higher concentrations, as food manufacturers have the capability to implement strategies that result in using ingredients with lower concentrations of toxic elements,” the FDA said. It further explained that homemade infant formula could be particularly dangerous for children. 

The FDA additionally announced actions it plans to take to reduce toxic metals in baby foods, including, continuing to sample products, reviewing action levels, performing inspections and other enforcement activities, and providing guidance to baby food businesses on how to meet current regulations. 

“We are eager to work with federal partners, academia, and other stakeholders to inform the development of action levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic in foods for babies and young children. We will be looking to additional sources of data, as well as increasing our testing for these elements, to better understand their prevalence in foods commonly eaten by babies and young children,” the FDA said.