The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a step toward regulating heavy metals in baby food last week when it announced an action plan to reduce lead in pouches, jars, and other baby food products.
According to an FDA press release issued January 24, 2023, the proposed action plan limits lead in baby food products to a maximum of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for:
- Vegetables (excluding single ingredient root vegetables)
- Grain mixtures
- Meat-based mixtures
- Puddings and custards
The agency’s guidance allows a maximum of 20 ppb lead in:
- Root vegetables (single ingredient)
- Dry cereals
“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24 to 27 percent reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf after the action plan was announced.
To put the proposed action plan in perspective, FDA allows for 5 ppb of lead in bottled water. If you are wondering why FDA would allow more lead in the food we feed our children than it allows in bottled water, you are not alone.
“The FDA knows that babies are far more vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure than adults,” says baby food lawyer, Pedram Esfandiary. “Lead exposure, even in small amounts, can increase a young child’s risk of developing learning disabilities, behavior difficulties, and lowered IQ. There is literally no amount of lead exposure that is considered safe. While it is nice to see the agency do something to address this serious health and safety issue, the action is simply not good enough if the goal is to protect children from harm.”
Esfandiary and his firm are taking the first baby food lawsuit to trial in the spring of 2023. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Melissa and Lorenzo Cantabrana of California, who allege their minor son, Noah, developed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after consuming substantial quantities of baby foods from the following manufacturers:
- Hain Celestial Group (Earth's Best Organic)
- Nurture (Happy Family Organics and Happy BABY)
- Plum Organics
- Sprout Foods (Sprout Organic Food)
- Walmart (Parent's Choice)
If your child was diagnosed with autism or severe ADHD after consuming baby foods from the brands listed above, you may be able to pursue justice and compensation in a baby food lawsuit. To learn more about your legal rights, contact the injury attorneys at Wisner Baum today for a free and confidential case evaluation.
How Does Lead Get in Baby Food?
Heavy metals like lead occur naturally in the environment at ambient levels. However, lead can leach into vegetables and fruits at potentially dangerous levels via water contaminated by fertilizers, pesticides, and other sources. The amount of lead in the ingredients used in baby foods depends on a variety of factors, including sourcing, pollution, and how much a particular crop or animal absorbs. For example, rice is a crop that readily absorbs arsenic from soil. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, which are grown underground, can also readily absorb more heavy metals.
Another way that lead gets into baby foods is via premixed vitamins and other additives. The 2021 baby food report (discussed in more detail below) showed that vitamin mixes added to certain products contained significant amounts of toxic heavy metals, including lead.
Why Lead Exposure is Dangerous for Children
Our bodies lack the ability to purge lead; it cannot be eliminated through metabolism and excretion. Babies are especially vulnerable to the dangers of lead exposure because their brains are still developing, and their bodies are smaller, which means they absorb more lead when compared to adults.
Lead is dangerous to children in the following ways:
- Decreased cognitive function.
- Altered mood and behaviors that may contribute to learning deficits, including attention deficits, hyperactivity, autistic behaviors, conduct disorders, and delinquency.
- Altered neuromotor and neurosensory function, including gross and fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, and hearing threshold, even at levels as low as <10 μg/dL.
What Amount of Lead Exposure is Safe?
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that there is “no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects.”
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATDSR) ranks lead just behind arsenic as the naturally occurring substances that pose the most significant risk to human health. Linda McCauley, who serves as the Dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University, says, “[n]o level of exposure to these metals has been shown to be safe in vulnerable infants.” She adds that exposure to several sources of heavy metals can cause cumulative effects that are particularly dangerous for babies and infants.
What Should be the Allowable Amount of Lead in Baby Food?
In stark contrast to the FDA’s proposed action for lead in baby food products, the American Academy for Pediatrics, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Consumer Reports have previously called for a 1 ppb lead exposure limit for baby food. Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a respected consumer advocacy group that has been at the forefront of the heavy metals in baby foods issue, has called for a goal of no measurable amount of lead in baby foods.
Which Baby Foods Are High in Lead?
According to testing analysis in the U.S. House Subcommittee Report titled “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury” (2021), the following companies knowingly sell products the exceed the FDA’s proposed action plan.
Ingredients in certain Beech-Nut baby food products tested as high as 886.9 ppb lead. Beech-Nut used 89 ingredients that tested above 15 ppb lead and 57 ingredients tested above 20 ppb lead. Some of the ingredients that tested highest for lead include:
- Cinnamon – 840 ppb lead
- Organic Cumin – 644.9 ppb lead
- Organic Coriander – 603.5 ppb lead
- Oregano – 570.4 ppb lead
- Cumin – 177.7 ppb lead
- Organic Cinnamon – 126.2 ppb lead
- Alpha Amylase (Enzyme) – 114.5 ppb lead
- Amylase (Enzyme) – 108.8 ppb lead
- Organic Lemon – 102 ppb lead
In 2021, Beech-Nut issued a recall on infant rice cereal after testing showed high levels of arsenic, another toxic heavy metal. The company announced that it would stop selling infant rice cereal due to concerns over heavy metals.
Nurture (Happy BABY)
Of the 206 finished products that Nurture tested for lead, 16 products registered over 20 ppb lead and 39 products tested over 10 ppb lead. Some of these products include:
- Blueberry Purple Carrot – 641 ppb lead
- Multi-Grain Cereal Canister – 580 ppb lead
- Apple Spinach Kiwi Baby Food – 86 ppb lead
- Blueberry Beet Rice – 61 ppb lead
- Pea Spinach Teether 56 ppb
Hain (Earth’s Best Organic)
Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) used ingredients that tested at 352 ppb lead. The company also used 88 ingredients that tested over 20 ppb lead and six ingredients that tested over 200 ppb lead. Some of the Earth’s Best Organic products and ingredients that tested the highest for lead include:
- Vitamin Pre-Mix –352 ppb lead
- Organic Whole Wheat Fine Flour –250 ppb lead
- Organic Barley Flour – 230 ppb lead
- Organic Cinnamon Powder –230 ppb lead
- Organic Quick Oats – 230 ppb lead
- Organic Date Paste –220 ppb lead
Gerber used ingredients in its baby foods that tested as high as 48 ppb lead. The company also knowingly allowed ingredients containing over 20 ppb lead in its finished products. The most common Gerber baby food products that contained high levels of lead were sweet potato products and Gerber juices.
Lead in Juice
It is not just baby foods that parents need to scrutinize; fruit juices can also contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, especially apple and grape juice. In 2019, Consumer Reports found that nearly half of the 45 juice products tested from Gerber, Walmart, Minute Maid, Whole Foods, and others contained “concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead.” Of the products that had concerning levels of toxic heavy metals, seven juice products “could harm children who drink 4 ounces (½ cup) or more a day,” and “nine of them pose risks to kids at 8 ounces (1 cup) or more a day.”
Test results showing high levels of lead in juices prompted the FDA to take action last year when it announced new guidance levels for juice products to reduce allowable lead levels from 50 ppb to 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for “all other single-strength juice types, including juice blends that contain apple juice.”
Like the lead in baby food announcement this week, last year’s guidance for lead in juice was nonbinding and “intended to encourage manufacturers to maintain lead levels in juices below the action levels, thus reducing risks associated with dietary lead exposures.”
What Does the FDA Lead in Baby Food Action Mean?
The action announced this week is not mandatory for the baby food industry, nor will it take effect immediately. For parents, this news is probably unsettling (more on how to protect your kids from heavy metals below). Establishing these limits on lead would allow the FDA to take enforcement action against companies that exceed them. For example, if a product goes above the lead threshold, the agency can take action and remove it from store shelves or ask a company to issue a baby food recall.
“It can be seen as a positive that after years of inaction, FDA is finally taking on this important issue and doing something to limit a toxin from our kids’ diets,” says baby food lawyer Stephanie B. Sherman. “The problem, in our view, is that the proposed lead thresholds are weak and seem to place too much emphasis on what the industry might do if the standards were stronger. FDA’s mandate is to protect people from foods that contain dangerous toxins, not ensure their availability in the marketplace.”
How to Protect Your Child from Lead in Baby Foods
Healthy Babies Bright Futures recently conducted food testing on a variety of different commercially available baby food products. What they found is that parents can limit lead exposure by feeding their children a varied diet with foods that are least likely to be contaminated. These foods include (in order of least contaminated):
- Branded Meats
- Butternut Squash
HBBF further recommends parents to limit or rotate the following baby foods to limit lead and other heavy metals exposure:
- Canned Fruit – Alternative choices like fresh or frozen are better.
- Sweet Potato, Potato, Carrot, and Baby Spinach – Rotate these foods and serve a variety (not the same one each day).
- Fruit Juice (Not Grape) – 100% fruit juices are considered safe as long as they are rotated and not consumed daily. Better choices are fresh fruit and water.
- Oatmeal, Barley, Millet, Farro – Rotate these foods and serve a variety (not the same one each day).
- Cantaloupe – Can stay on the menu but consumed less than daily.
- Peanut Butter – Can stay on the menu but consumed less than daily.
For more information, please check out our blog on baby foods without heavy metals.
Can I File a Lawsuit Over Lead in Baby Food?
Yes. Wisner Baum baby food lawyers represent thousands of children throughout the country diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and severe ADHD after consuming baby foods from:
- Hain Celestial Group – Earth's Best Organic
- Nurture – Happy Family Organics and Happy BABY
- Plum Organics
- Sprout Foods – Sprout Organic Food
We are looking forward to trying the first toxic heavy metals baby food case in the country and we are seeking to hold these companies accountable for knowingly selling baby food products that contain dangerous levels of lead and other heavy metals linked to neurodevelopmental disorders. Our team of attorneys has the experience needed to earn justice and maximize compensation for families who have suffered harm allegedly caused by these companies negligently selling tainted baby food.
To see if you qualify for a baby food lawsuit, fill out our confidential case evaluation form or give us a call at (855) 948-5098 to schedule an appointment with an attorney who can answer all your questions.