Congress Responds to Baby Food Worries, New Bill Limits Toxic Heavy Metals

Democratic lawmakers from both houses of Congress have teamed up to introduce legislation limiting toxic heavy metals in baby foods and in foods for children up to age three.

The bill comes in the wake of a high-profile Congressional report released in February which found that leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sell baby foods contaminated with heavy metals, according to a review of the manufacturers’ internal documents. The report has generated widespread media attention, considerable concern among parents and the filing of more than 38 class action lawsuits.

The Food and Drug Administration first responded to the congressional report on March 25 and then announced details of its final action plan, “Closer to Zero,” on April 8. The agency has consistently offered reassurance that babies and young children are not “at an immediate health risk from toxic elements in foods.” Action limits foregoing enforceable limits on metals these foods contain.

Responding to ongoing safety concerns not addressed by the FDA, the “Baby Food Safety Act of 2021” was introduced on March 26 by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Krishnamoortiis the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform which released the February report.

The bill sets action limits for four toxic heavy metals found in excess by the Congressional investigation: inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. There are no safe levels of exposure to these heavy metals.

Both the FDA and the World Health Organization consider these metals “dangerous to human health,” with babies and children being the “most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects,” according to a summary of the bill.

“Even low levels of exposure (to these toxic heavy metals) can cause permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior in children. It is for this reason that the FDA and EPA currently regulate the levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in bottled and drinking water,” the summary states.

The bill requires the following actions:

  • food company compliance with initial heavy metal limits within one year
  • further reductions in heavy metals at the two and three-year marks
  • testing of finished food products instead of just ingredients
  • online posting of food company heavy metal test results twice a year
  • a public health campaign alerting parents to the risks of heavy metals in baby foods
  • $50 million investment in agricultural research to reduce heavy metals in crops

Because they’re present in the environment, toxic heavy metals cannot be entirely eliminated from foods. While heavy metals occur naturally in the ground, levels of toxic heavy metals have increased from human activity, including past industrial practices, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and even highway pollution, Jane Houlihan, research director for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, told MedTruth.

Houlihan was the lead researcher for HBBF’s 2019 study, “What’s In My Baby Food?” which helped spark the Congressional inquiry and 2021 report.

By Carah Wertheimer

Carah Wertheimer is an editor and reporter based in Boulder, Colorado. Her areas of specialization include food, health, environment, social justice and community reporting. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The Denver Post, The Daily Beast, the Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder Weekly and other publications.

MedTruth is a digital magazine reporting on health, safety and justice. Join the revolution today at https://medtruth.com/.

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