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Attorney General Bonta: FDA Must Act Swiftly to Reduce Dangerous Concentrations of Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a multistate coalition, urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take swift action to reduce the concentrations of toxic heavy metals in baby foods. In February and September 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives released alarming reports showing that baby foods manufactured by seven popular brands, including Gerber, Beech-Nut, and Earth’s Best, contained elevated levels of lead, inorganic arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. While California has a long history of taking action to protect infants and children from toxic heavy metals, nationwide standards are necessary to push manufacturers to do more to reduce heavy metal contamination. In today’s petition, the coalition asks the FDA to immediately set interim proposed action levels, which represents the limit at or above which the FDA will take legal action to remove products from the market, for these four toxic heavy metals in baby foods, among other actions.

“No parent should have to worry that the foods they are feeding their baby might affect their brain development or make them sick down the line,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury are toxic metals with devastating health impacts on infants and children, especially in our most vulnerable communities. Today, I’m calling on the FDA to push manufacturers to lower the concentration of these toxic metals in baby foods. Nothing less than the health and wellbeing of our children is at stake.” 

The negative health impacts of heavy metal exposure are well documented. For example, impacts of lead exposure in children include behavioral issues, reduced IQ, slowed body growth, hearing problems, and kidney damage. There is widespread scientific consensus that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Cadmium exposure can cause damage to the liver, lungs, male reproductive systems, and kidneys. Inorganic arsenic exposure increases the risk of lung and bladder cancer. Heavy metals also bioaccumulate in the body over the course of a lifetime. 

In today’s petition, the coalition urges the FDA to do more to regulate heavy metal contamination in the U.S. food supply, and specifically to:

  • Set interim proposed action levels to reduce concentrations of inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in baby foods, pending FDA’s full study of these chemicals under its “Closer to Zero” plan;
  • Review and further reduce action levels for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal; and
  • Issue guidance to industry that finished product testing is a “preventive control” and should be used to limit concentrations of heavy metals in their products. 

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin in filing the petition.

A copy of the petition is available here.

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