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Democrats urge FDA to manage poisonous metals in child meals

Democrats urge FDA to regulate toxic metals in baby food after research finds high levels.

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Top Democrats are urging the FDA to regulate toxic metals in baby food after a Congressional investigation found metals like arsenic, lead, and cadmium to be found in far higher concentrations than in bottled water and other products.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. And Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. As well as the representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. And Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., Told CNBC that they are asking regulators to limit toxic heavy metals in baby food.

The Food and Drug Administration does not currently set limits for heavy metals in baby food, particularly arsenic in rice grain. The agency regulates other toxins in consumer products such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium in bottled water.

The four Democrats said Thursday they had drafted laws that would tighten regulations on baby food safety and sent them to FDA staff for technical review. However, lawmakers want the FDA to use their existing regulator to take immediate action.

“Through our legislation and FDA regulations, we will ensure that the baby foods we put on the market are safe and that our children are safe,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement. “I am proud to work with my colleagues, along with the FDA, stakeholders and health professionals across the country, to develop major reforms.”

An FDA spokeswoman said the agency takes exposure to toxic metals in food “extremely seriously” and that the agency is reviewing the results of the Congressional investigation. She added that “The FDA has not commented on whether it has received requests for technical assistance regarding the legislation, but we would look forward to working with Congress on the matter.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., During the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicines and Postal Ballots on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in the Rayburn House office building.

Tom Williams | CQ Appeal, Inc. | Getty Images

A subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Krishnamoorthi, released the results of its 15-month investigation in February. It used data from four companies – Nurture, Hain Celestial Group, Beech-Nut Nutrition, and Gerber, a unit of Nestle – that responded to the subcommittee’s requests for information on testing guidelines and test results for their products.

The research found that “baby food companies weren’t looking for parents and young children the way we all expected – instead they knowingly sold us tainted products,” said Krishnamoorthi.

Hain said at the time that the investigation “did not reflect our current practices,” adding that the company’s internal standards “meet or exceed current federal guidelines.”

Gemma Hart, a spokeswoman for Nurture, told the New York Times at the time that their products were safe and that the metals were only present in “trace amounts”. Beech-Nut said Thursday that the company is “committed to continuously improving its internal standards and testing processes as technology and knowledge evolve.” Dana Stambaugh, a spokeswoman for Gerber, said the company is taking steps to minimize metals in its products.

Three other baby food companies – Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup – did not provide all of the information requested. At the time the investigation was published, Campbell said its products were safe, citing the lack of FDA standards for heavy metals in baby food.

A Walmart representative told Reuters at the time that private label product suppliers must meet their own specifications, “which for baby and toddler foods means the levels must meet or fall below the limits set by the FDA.”

Sprout did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

“Like parents across America, I was horrified to learn that trusted baby food brands knowingly sell products that are high in toxic lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium,” Rep. Cardenas said Thursday. “I urge the FDA to use their existing agencies to take immediate regulatory action.

The investigation found that heavy metals are naturally found in some grains and vegetables, but added that levels can be increased if manufacturers add other tainted ingredients to baby food. According to the report, companies rarely test their products for contamination before sending them to stores.

“It is unacceptable that, despite parents’ efforts to protect their children, some leading baby formula manufacturers have launched products that expose children to dangerous toxins,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This legislation will protect children and ensure a healthy start by holding manufacturers accountable for removing toxins from infant and toddler foods.”

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