A report from the Environmental Defense Fund found that lead is present in 20 percent of baby foods tested.
The EDF evaluated 10 years of Food and Drug Administration data tracking metals, pesticides and nutrients in food. Out of 2,164 samples of baby food, 20 percent had detectable levels of lead. For other foods, 14 percent of 10,064 samples tested had lead.
According to the FDA, “There is no known identified safe blood lead level, and chronic exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, increasing the risk for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.”
EDF found that lead was most commonly found in fruit juices, with lead present in 89 percent of 44 samples of grape juice and 55 percent of 44 samples of apple juice. Root vegetables sweet potatoes and carrots had 86 percent (in 44 samples) and 43 percent (in 44 samples) respectively. Forty-seven percent of 43 samples of teething biscuits had lead in them.
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For young children, the maximum daily intake level is 6 micrograms of lead per day. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated more than 1 million children between ages 2 and 6 years exceed that recommendation.
The FDA has different allowable levels of lead for different food and beverage items. That level is 50 parts per billion for fruit juices, 100 ppb for candy and 5 ppb for drinking water. Those levels vary because the FDA sets them according to what it considers to be “achievable.”
“Lead is in food because it is in the environment and lead cannot simply be removed from food,” the FDA said. “Absent our ability to prevent lead from entering the food supply, the FDA’s goal is to protect human health by ensuring that consumer exposure to lead is limited to the greatest extent feasible.”
The FDA is currently reviewing is allowable lead levels for fruit juices.
EDF called on the agency to “do better to reduce lead in food, especially baby food.” It recommended the FDA update its current limits and food safety guidance to reflect current scientific understanding of how lead poses a risk to children. EDF also said the FDA should encourage food manufacturers to reduce lead levels in food.
According to its website, the FDA is focused on how to eliminate lead in foods consumed by children.
“The FDA’s Toxic Elements Working Group is reevaluating its methods for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers,” the FDA said.