Since when is any amount of lead allowed in baby food?

Sarah Gantz, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Women

PHILADELPHIA -- The Food and Drug Administration urged food manufacturers last week to significantly reduce the amount of lead in processed baby food.

Lead is toxic for anyone, but children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure because they are still growing. Elevated blood levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slow physical and emotional development, and contribute to learning, behavior, hearing, and speech problems.

Many Philadelphia families are all too aware of the potential dangers of lead poisoning from old, lead water pipes and paints in the region's pre-1970s housing stock.

But you may be wondering: Why is there any lead at all in my baby's food?

"Try not to panic," said Kim Kramer, a clinical dietitian at Nemours Children's Health in Delaware. "I know it sounds scary."

The FDA's new guidelines aren't in response to a spike in contamination, but rather are part of an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of heavy metals that have long been in our foods, she said.


Let's get to it.

Why is there lead in baby food?

Fruits, vegetables, and grains absorb lead through the soil they're grown in. Soil naturally contains some lead, though contamination from leaded gasoline, exterior lead-based paint, and industrial development have raised lead levels in soil.

It's impossible to remove all lead from food, but the FDA's new guidelines call for food manufacturers to remove as much of it as possible — and ensure that their production processes don't contribute lead.


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