February 4, 2023

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

However, because exposure to toxic metals can be detrimental to brain development, the Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines to reduce children’s exposure to the lowest possible levels.

The new FDA guideline requires a limit on lead levels in all processed foods intended for babies and children under the age of two. Lead concentrations should now be limited to 10 parts per billion in fruit, vegetables and meat packaged in baby food jars, pouches, cups and boxes. The goal is 20 parts per billion for dry grains.

The FDA estimates that these lower levels could result in a 24% to 27% reduction in lead exposure, which could result in a “long-term, meaningful and sustained reduction in exposure to this contaminant from these foods,” according to a statement by the FDA commissioner Robert Califf.

“We know that the fewer these metals are present in babies’ bodies, the better it is,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So, he says, the goal should be to minimize how much lead a child is exposed to.

“Parents need to realize that in some cases foods naturally contain metals,” he says. Therefore, it is best to “feed your child as varied as possible”. Some foods contain more lead than others, and a varied diet is also good for nutrition — so following “good dietary advice will also reduce exposure to these metals,” says Bernstein.

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

In addition, offer infants and young children chopped or pureed fruit instead of fruit juice, as some fruit juices can contain worrying levels of heavy metals.

“Fruit juices can contain as much, if not more, of these metals that we’re trying to minimize,” says Bernstein. And he says juice is a “sugar hit” with kids, so avoiding it is nutritionally a good thing.

The FDA says that since the mid-1980s there has already been a dramatic decline in lead exposure from foods. Lead was banned from gasoline and paint decades ago, and there are currently plenty of federal funds to replace old leaded water pipes, enforced in part in response to shocking stories of lead poisoning in places like Flint, Michigan.

dr Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health, 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 small step forward in limiting toxic exposure to children’s health, the FDA has been stone cold in tackling newer and emerging contaminants,” he says.

Chemicals such as phthalates used in packaging can leak into food. Trasande says we need to know how these compounds can affect children’s health as well.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *