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Manufacturing Industry Updates

FDA Acts on Toxins, But is it Just Baby Steps?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced steps it will take to reduce “toxic elements” in baby food and, judging by the name of their initiative, you have to give them credit for being honest. Calling its plan “Closer to Zero,” the FDA explained it will take a “four-stage iterative approach that includes research, regulatory and outreach efforts” to reduce exposure to levels “as low as possible.”

The administration seems fully aware that most people will hear the phrase “toxic elements in baby food” and respond, “‘Closer?’ Is that the best you can do?”

Actually, yes, that appears to be the case. “We recognize that Americans want zero toxic elements in the foods eaten by their babies and young children,” FDA said in a statement yesterday. “In reality, because these elements occur in our air, water and soil, there are limits to how low these levels can be. Its goal, therefore, is to reduce the levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in these foods to the greatest extent possible.”

This issue burst upon the public’s consciousness earlier this year with the publication of a congressional report with the disturbing title of “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium and Mercury.” Nevertheless, FDA is urging people to remain calm.

“It’s important to note that the FDA’s testing shows that children are not at an immediate health risk from exposure to toxic elements at the levels found in foods,” FDA said this week. “However, we know that additional progress can be made and are confident that a science-driven, transparent and inclusive process will help lead to even further reductions in exposure to these toxic elements.”

FDA said the process of evaluating the science, proposing action levels, consulting with stakeholders and then finalizing action levels will stretch into 2024 and beyond. “Once the FDA has published final action levels, the agency will establish a timeframe for assessing industry’s progress toward meeting the action levels and recommence the cycle to determine if the scientific data support efforts to further adjust the action levels downward,” it said.

FDA’s timeline isn’t fast enough for Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors dedicated to reducing exposures to neurotoxic chemicals in a child’s first 1,000 days of development. While it said it “welcomes” FDA’s initiative, HBBF asked, “Why does it take more than three years just to finalize action levels? The pace of the FDA’s Closer to Zero doesn’t get us closer to zero quickly enough.”

HBBF instead endorses the Baby Food Safety Act, a bill introduced this year that advocates a more aggressive approach. “Government actions to protect babies from the toxic heavy metals in their food are long overdue,” said Charlotte Brody, HBBF national director. “The Baby Food Safety Act is much more than a baby step to protect the millions of infants and toddlers that are exposed to these contaminants every day.”

The manufacturer perhaps most associated with baby food in the public’s imagination, Gerber, today said it welcomed “the opportunity to collaborate with our nation’s leaders and the FDA in the important mission of making the food supply even safer for infants and young children.”

 A more-detailed overview of Closer to Zero can be found here.

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