Report: Lead found in 20% of baby food samples, especially juices and veggies

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CNN reports: The organization’s primary focus was on the baby foods because of how detrimental lead can be to child development.

“Lead can have a number of effects on children and it’s especially harmful during critical windows of development,” said Dr. Aparna Bole, pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, who was not involved with the report. “The largest burden that we often think about is neurocognitive that can occur even at low levels of lead exposure.”

Lead can cause problems with attention and behavior, cognitive development, the cardiovascular system and immune system, Bole said.

The samples studied were not identified by brand, and the levels of lead are thought to be relatively low. Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

In a draft report released earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that over 5 percent of children consume more than 6 micrograms per day of lead — the maximum daily intake level set by the Food and Drug Administration in

This surprised Tom Neltner, Environmental Defense Fund’s chemicals policy director, who has spent 20 years researching and working to reduce lead exposures. His further analysis of the EPA report was that food is the major source of lead exposure in two-thirds of toddlers.

This spurred the organization to examine data from the FDA’s Total Diet Study for specific sources of exposure for kids.
In the resulting report, released Thursday, Neltner found that the baby food versions of apple juice, grape juice and carrots had detectable lead more often than the regular versions. Researchers could determine how frequently contamination occurred, but not at what levels.

According to the FDA, lead makes its way into food through contaminated soil, but Neltner suspects that processing may also play a role.

“I can’t explain it other than I assume baby food is processed more,” Neltner said.

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Key findings

EDF‘s analysis of 11 years of FDA data found:

  • Lead was detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods.
  • Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples.
  • Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.

EDF also found that the FDA’s lax policies allow more than 1 million American children consume more lead than FDA’s limit. It has been estimated that by eliminating lead in food, and protecting children from neurological damage, society would save more than $27 billion annually in total lifetime earnings from saved IQ points.

Infants are incredibly vulnerable to lead

EDF evaluated data collected and analyzed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2003 to 2013 as part of the agency’s Total Diet Study (TDS). Since the 1970s, the TDS has tracked metals, pesticides, and nutrients in food. While they evaluated all types of food collected by FDA, they focused on types of baby food because infants are most vulnerable to lead.

What EDF found

Overall, 20% of 2,164 baby food samples and 14% of the other 10,064 food samples had detectable levels of lead. At least one sample in 52 of the 57 types of baby food analyzed by FDA had detectable levels of lead in it. Lead was most commonly found in the following baby foods types:

  • Fruit juices: 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, mixed fruit (67%), apple (55%), and pear (45%)
  • Root vegetables: Sweet potatoes (86%) and carrots (43%)
  • Cookies: Arrowroot cookies (64%) and teething biscuits (47%)
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