New FDA guidance calls for lower lead concentrations in baby food and cereals : Shots

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New guidance calls for lower levels of lead in food for infants and children under 2 years of age. Lead exposure can be harmful to developing brains.

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty


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Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty

New guidance calls for lower levels of lead in food for infants and children under 2 years of age. Lead exposure can be harmful to developing brains.

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty

It is not possible to remove all traces of lead from the food supply, because the heavy metal is found throughout the environment and can be absorbed by plants. Therefore traces are found in vegetables, fruits and grains that are used to make baby food.

But since toxic metal exposure can be harmful to developing brains, the Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines to reduce children’s exposure to the lowest possible level.

The new FDA guidance calls for limiting lead concentrations in all processed foods intended for infants and children under two years of age. Lead concentrations must now be limited to 10 parts per billion in fruit, vegetables and meats packaged in baby food jars, bags, tubs and boxes. The target is 20 parts per billion for dry cereals.

The FDA estimates that these lower levels could result in a 24 to 27% reduction in lead exposure resulting in “a long-term, significant and sustainable reduction in exposure to this contaminant from this l -food,” according to a statement from FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.

“We know that the less amount of these metals in the baby’s body, the better,” she says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Therefore, he says that the aim should be to minimize how much a child is exposed to.

“Parents should recognize that foods have metals in them naturally in some cases,” he says. Therefore it is better “to feed your child a variety of food to the extent possible.” Some foods will have more lead than others and a varied diet is also good for nutrition – so following “good nutritional guidance also reduces exposure to these metals,” says Bernstein.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has several tips for parents on how reduce children’s exposure to heavy metals: Serve a variety of foods, read labels, switch your baby cereal and check your water supply for heavy metals.

In addition, offer small children and small children chopped or pureed fruit instead of fruit juice, because some fruit juices may contain concerning levels of heavy metals.

“Fruit juice can have as much, if not more, of these very metals that we’re trying to reduce,” says Bernstein. And he says juice is a “sugar hit” for kids, so nutritionally it’s a good thing to avoid.

The FDA says there has already been a dramatic reduction in lead exposure from food since the mid-1980s. Lead was phased out of gasoline and paint decades ago and there are currently many federal funds to replace old water pipes containing lead, pushed through in part in response to shocking stories of lead poisoning in places like Flint, Michigan.

Dr. Leonardo Trasande, pediatrician in NYU Langone Health, he says the FDA is moving in the right direction with these new targets, but we’ve known about these toxins for decades, he says.

“While this is a baby step forward in limiting toxic exposures to children’s health, the FDA has been glacial in its pace to address newer and emerging contaminants,” he says.

Chemicals such as phthalates that are used in packaging can find their way into food. Trasande says that we need to know how these compounds may also be affecting children’s health.

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