Congress must act to protect children from lead in food

Hospitalized child hugging a teddy bear

Vitolda Klein -

Statement of CSPI Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert advising that children showing symptoms be tested for lead poisoning after multiple states reported potential cases of high blood lead levels in children who had consumed cinnamon-containing applesauce products that have been recalled by the manufacturers. As of Monday, the Food and Drug Administration has received 22 reports of illness potentially linked to the recalled products

The reports highlight a shocking gap in our food system. Consumers trust companies and regulators to test products and ensure they meet minimum safety standards. But in fact, there are currently no federal standards for lead in most foods, including those consumed by children and infants, and product testing is generally not required by the FDA. 

In April 2021—following a Congressional report revealing that baby foods sold in the United States can contain dangerously high level of toxic elements like lead—the FDA launched the Closer to Zero Action plan, promising to reduce lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in foods consumed by babies and young children. Yet more than two years later, the FDA has only issued two draft guidance documents, proposing non-binding limits on lead in juices and baby foods, and has yet to finalize a single standard. Even when finalized, these action levels will be guidance only, and will not establish legally enforceable responsibilities or require product testing. 

The FDA recognizes that this process isn’t working for consumers or public health. That’s why last spring the agency asked Congress to create a swifter, more efficient process for the FDA to establish binding contamination limits in foods, including those consumed by infants and young children. The agency also asked for authority to require manufacturers to conduct toxic element testing in final products marketed for infants and young children, and to share those records with FDA inspectors. Yet to date, Congress has not acted on this request. 

This ongoing delay in creating standards for lead and other contaminants places children at unacceptable risk. CSPI calls on FDA to accelerate efforts under the Closer to Zero plan and prioritize public health protection—not industry achievability—when setting limits. We further call on Congress to act now to protect children by giving the FDA authority to swiftly set heavy metals standards and require product testing. The agency should also release the results of all testing it has conducted on the products implicated in the current recall. 

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