Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum joined 22 state attorneys general calling on the heads of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take immediate action to reduce the amount of toxic metals in baby food. In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the coalition urged the federal agencies to meaningfully —and immediately— drive down the levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury in food designed for babies and young children.
“Parents need to be reassured that all baby food is safe, tested and well regulated,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “We are urging the FDA and the USDA to do more and to do it now! With frightening reports of toxic metals in many foods made to be fed to our precious children, parents and caregivers deserve peace of mind that what they are feeding their baby is safe.”
The FDA has set or proposed limits on toxic metals in a wide variety of other consumable products — such as bottled water, juice, and candy — but the agency has failed to adequately regulate baby food. So far, the agency has established only one action level for one type of toxic metal (inorganic arsenic) in one type of baby food product (infant rice cereal), despite the FDA concluding years ago that babies’ and young children’s smaller bodies and metabolisms make them more vulnerable to the harmful neurological effects of these toxic metals. As a result, U.S. baby food manufacturers are left to self-regulate the amounts of lead and other toxic metals in their products. It remains up to the manufacturers to decide whether to even test their products for these metals.
In April 2021, FDA announced the “Closer to Zero” plan, under which the agency committed to proposing “action levels” for lead in various baby foods by April 2022, inorganic arsenic in various baby foods by April 2024, and cadmium and mercury sometime after April 2024. However, that plan is already behind schedule, since the FDA failed to propose lead action levels by the April deadline. This delay is both a public health concern and a matter of environmental justice, as low-income children and children of color are disproportionately impacted by lead through exposures to lead-based paint, lead in drinking water pipes, and other sources. Lead in their food only exacerbates the existing inordinate and inequitable hazards these children face.
In their letter, the coalition urges the federal government to:
- Propose interim limits for inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in relevant categories of infant and toddler foods;
- Propose a lower limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal than that currently set forth in FDA guidance; and,
- Provide guidance to all baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic metals.
Joining Attorney General Rosenblum in sending this letter to FDA and USDA leadership are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.