On February 4, 2021, the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee found unsafe levels of heavy metals, namely arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, in baby foods from several U.S. baby food manufacturers. popular baby foods. However, only 4 of the 7 companies contacted had responded. The findings of the subcommittee are concerning.
A great deal of research shows how continued exposure to arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury can lead to decreased IQ levels, increased risks for antisocial behavior, and the development of autism spectrum disorders. The FDA’s reaction to this news was swift, but experts say it can still do a lot to ensure safer consumer products for infant nutrition.
Findings reveal shocking extent of toxic metal content in baby food
The heavy metal snowball effect began in October 2019 when independent research from Healthy Babies Bright Futures revealed shocking findings regarding the content of baby food. Specifically, out of 186 containers of baby food of 13 different types of food from 61 brands, only 9 containers showed no signs of neurotoxins. This represents only 5% of the products recorded as clean, while the remaining 95% of the products tested were contaminated with at least one heavy metal compound.
Although the report’s findings point to problematic standards and practices, the targeted manufacturers disagree. They expressed dissatisfaction with the report’s findings, citing “tonal biases and inaccuracies”.
Following the previous independent research, the February 4, 2021 subcommittee report dug a little deeper and uncovered serious questionable practices by baby food manufacturers, in particular insufficient product testing and knowingly allowing stand out from the high concentrations of heavy metals in their products. Some of the major US companies whose products contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals include Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, Gerber, Walmart, Campbell and Sprout Foods.
One would expect a quick response from the company when the quality of the product is questioned. However, that was not the case for Walmart, Campbell and Sprout, which refused to cooperate with the subcommittee’s requests and investigative efforts.
One would assume that a likely reason for their reluctance is the high levels of toxic contaminants in several products. However, some improvements in regulatory practices have taken place. For example, Beech-Nut voluntarily recalled contaminated products and withdrew from the market indefinitely. Conversely, Gerber was reluctant to recall products suspected of being contaminated. Similarly, Walmart has not justified why it has allowed dangerously high levels of arsenic in its products since 2018.
The lack of an immediate response from most baby food manufacturers indicates that they are in no rush to improve their safety standards. You would think that six to seven months would be more than enough time to implement toxin reduction strategies and ensure baby food safety. It was not the case. A follow-up report from September 2021 indicates that even more baby food products than previously believed appear to be contaminated with heavy metals. Very few corporate measures are taken to prevent contamination, which has not gone unnoticed.
FDA measures lack urgency and practicality
The FDA’s response was to implement the Closer to Zero action plan, which aims to dramatically reduce heavy metal exposure in baby food. However, the FDA’s Closer to Zero plan may not be effective enough for manufacturers to voluntarily remove contaminants from their products. It is not in their interest to put in place security measures that would cause additional costs in their manufacturing process. This leaves it up to the FDA to impose regulatory measures that manufacturers must adhere to. However, achieving this goal follows a lengthy and impractical four-step process.
Although the FDA’s approach appears structurally sound, its planned target date for implementation lacks urgency. Actions to reduce toxins would extend at least until 2024 and, in some cases, even beyond that date. Experts in the field appreciate and welcome the plan. However, they consider its timeline to be unnecessarily long and potentially dangerous for intended consumers.
While the FDA develops its plan to eradicate heavy metals from baby foods, these foods are still being sold and kept on the shelves. They are still consumed by children whose digestive tract absorbs four times more substances than adults. At the same time, their immunity continues to develop and they are more susceptible to harmful toxins.
Additionally, heavy metals are associated with lasting health risks that affect quality of life well beyond childhood. It is unjustifiable to allow the marketing of unsafe food products that could have such an impact until 2024. The FDA’s slow response to tackle the problem has drawn the attention of concerned officials and a coalition of 24 attorneys general.
Baby Food Safety Act 2021 – A proposal that could end the current health crisis
The FDA’s slow progress in addressing this issue is a real concern for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. As a result, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi proposed a bill in the Senate called the Baby Safety Food Act 2021 to demand greater involvement from the FDA and manufacturers. This bill would mandate specific levels of permitted toxins in baby food products and phase out said toxins over time. Other measures to ensure the safety of baby food are end product testing and transparent semi-annual reporting from manufacturers. Public awareness campaigns and research funding to improve crop quality are also recommended.
Following the September 2021 report, the bill’s authors issued a follow-up alleging industry players were cutting corners and prioritizing profits over infant health. More worryingly, the bill entered the Senate on March 25, 2021 and is still pending. The lack of urgency in implementing enforceable safety standards by both manufacturers and authorities has caught the attention of a coalition of 24 attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The coalition has submitted a petition to the FDA that echoes the underlying goals of the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021.
The authors of the petition reinforce the demands for better defined measures and standards concerning manufacturers. They cite manufacturers’ failure to implement recommended actions seven months after being notified and also urge the FDA to expedite implementation of its Closer to Zero action plan. A more urgent implementation date of April 2022 should be considered instead of the original deadline of until 2024.
Finally, while the FDA sets limits on heavy metal content in other consumer goods such as bottled water, juices and candy, store-bought baby food remains a staple in the diet. every child’s life. They must undoubtedly be fit for consumption. Conversely, the FDA has taken concrete steps to address only one heavy metal in one type of baby food product: infant rice cereal. The reasons why the authority does not actively enforce regulations critical to ensuring baby food safety are debatable.
One thing that is neither debatable nor acceptable is that the FDA allows such products to be marketed and continues to affect children for another two years until it finally adopts effective measures.
Jonathan Sharp is the chief financial officer of Environmental Litigation Group, PC, a law firm that handles toxic exposure claims in Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Sharp manages firm assets, client relationships, financial analysis and case evaluations, among his responsibilities.