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A Shocking Amount of Baby Food Samples Test Positive for Lead

Photograph by Twenty20

If you aren't already an eagle-eyed label reader, you're going to want to check your labels and do research on all the baby food products you're buying—because food and drinks marketed specifically for babies are not as safe as you might have thought. In fact, an analysis of baby food and drink products found that lead was frequently detected in certain kinds of baby foods.

Keep in mind that there is no level of lead that is considered safe in the body. That means zero, zilch, nada should make its way into our bodies and especially not the bodies of our little ones. Even very low levels of lead exposure in children can lead to lower IQ, behavioral problems and lifelong issues. Lead can cause damage to just about every system in the body and there is no "cure" or way to reverse the damage caused by lead exposure.

The Environmental Defense Fund released a report this month that found lead in 20 percent of baby food samples tested. The report is based on 10 years worth of data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This report adds to previous federal findings that show that food is a significant source of lead exposure for children. In other words, we are feeding our children lead.

“Every child’s food should come unleaded,” said Sarah Vogel, Vice President of EDF’s Health Program. “Unfortunately, food is a poorly understood and often overlooked source of lead exposure, a potent neurotoxin. Our report should serve as a call to action for government and business alike to better protect children.”

Lead was most commonly found in the following baby foods:

  • Fruit juices: 89 percent of grape, 67 percent of mixed fruit, 55 percent of apple and 45 percent of pear fruit juice samples contained detectable lead levels. Orange juice samples had much lower rates.
  • Root vegetables: 86 percent of sweet potatoes and 43 percent of carrots sampled postive for lead.
  • Cookies: 64 percent of arrowroot cookies and 47 percent of teething biscuits tested also had detectable levels of lead.

In contrast, regular apple juice, grape juice and carrots were less likely to have lead than the baby versions of the same foods. What's that about?

Most parents worry about their children being exposed to lead via lead paint, dust, soil or batteries ... but food? Food made especially for babies and sold in grocery stores? Who would have thought? As if we don't have enough to worry about as parents.

“We found that food is a concerning source of young children’s exposure to lead,” said Tom Neltner, EDF Health’s Chemicals Policy Director. “While paint and drinking water are the greatest sources of lead in most children living in older homes, all children get some lead from their diet. Even low levels in blood can cause harm. FDA and food manufacturers can and must take action to reduce lead levels in food.”

The Environmental Defense Fund wants the FDA to raise its standards, get manufacturers to lower the level of lead in their products and to take action when lead limits are exceeded. They also suggest that companies test their products often—more often than they do now—set a goal of 1 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, make sure that lead doesn't get into the food via processing and that they communicate to the public how they test their food and the results of those tests.

And what can parents do? We can get in touch with the companies that make the baby foods we purchase and hold them accountable. We can ask whether they test their products for lead, how often they test and make sure that the products they sell contain less 1 ppb of lead.

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