FDA Letter Targets Baby Food Manufacturers
Here’s a sentence that is guaranteed to get a strong reaction from anyone who is a parent, grandparent or former baby: “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium and Mercury.”
That was the disturbing title of a recent congressional report based on test results from seven of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States, including makers of both organic and conventional products. “Baby food manufacturers hold a special position of public trust,” the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy noted in February. “Consumers believe that they would not sell products that are unsafe. Consumers also believe that the federal government would not knowingly permit the sale of unsafe baby food.”
More recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contacted baby food manufacturers to remind them “of your responsibility … to consider chemical hazards that may be present in foods when conducting your hazard analysis.” In its March 5 letter, FDA stated that it “takes exposure to toxic elements in the food supply extremely seriously, especially when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the youngest and most vulnerable in the population.”
The administration reminded manufacturers that it has the authority to take dangerous products off the market, as it did earlier this year when it convinced a federal court to order a U.S. company to stop distributing “adulterated juice products containing potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic and the mycotoxin patulin” until the company demonstrated it was back in compliance.
The FDA is working on a comprehensive plan to further reduce toxins, which can enter the baby food chain through either agricultural or manufacturing processes. However, the March 5 letter did not mention any punitive actions similar to the juice case, and it set out no new rules or procedures to protect the food supply. “We appreciate your attention to your obligation to consider potential chemical hazards, including toxic elements, when conducting a hazard analysis,” it wrote.
The letter’s content struck some observers as vague, including Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) an alliance of scientists and nonprofit organizations. “The devil is in the details,” said Jane Houlihan, HBBF research director. “FDA has promised to share its plan in the coming weeks. For meaningful, significant exposure reductions, FDA must set enforceable health-based limits for toxic heavy metals in the foods that account for the greatest exposures, including rice-based foods and snacks, juices, infant cereals and root vegetables.”
Regardless of what steps the FDA ultimately takes, the baby food industry naturally says it takes the issue very seriously. “As a member of the Baby Food Council, we have been working together with other industry members, the Environmental Defense Fund, HBBF and Cornell University in the identification of best agricultural practices and creating a voluntary industry standard to reduce heavy metal levels in baby foods to the lowest levels possible,” Gerber declared in a statement. “In addition, we will provide our full support and expertise to FDA as they develop science-based regulation.”
In the meantime, FDA has shared advice for parents and caregivers to protect the littlest consumers.