Senate Democrats call for FDA action on high levels of heavy metals in some baby food

Senate Democrats call for FDA action on high levels of heavy metals in some baby food
© Bonnie Cash

A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Competition laws could be a death knell for startup mergers and acquisitions MORE (Minn.) is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to step up efforts to eliminate toxic heavy metals that have been reported in some baby foods. 

Klobuchar, along with Democratic Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases MORE (Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Congress can make progress on fighting emissions with Zero Food Waste Act MORE (N.J.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act National Guard cancels trainings after Congress fails to reimburse for Capitol riot deployment MORE (Vt.), made the request in a Thursday letter to acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock that was shared with The Hill.

The lawmakers wrote that it is essential to “efficiently finalize action” by the FDA to “ensure that baby food products containing toxic heavy metals are not making it to grocery store shelves and into the homes of families.” 

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Concerns on the issue arose from a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy report released in February, which said that some internal company standards “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.”

The named companies included Nurture Inc., which sells baby food under the brand HappyBABY, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial and Gerber. 

The report said metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium were present in some of the baby foods made by each. 

Klobuchar and her colleagues wrote that the heavy metals could have detrimental effects, citing research showing that “even low levels of arsenic exposure can impact a baby’s neurodevelopment.” 

“Babies have developing brains that are sensitive to harm caused by toxic heavy metals, and their risk from exposure is greater given that they are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more heavy metals than adults,” the lawmakers added.

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They went on to say, “studies have shown that consuming products with arsenic over time can lead to impaired brain development, growth problems, breathing problems, and a compromised immune system.”

The senators requested that the FDA take several steps to address their concerns, including by providing more information about how the agency was made aware of the high levels of arsenic detected in the Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal that was recalled by the baby food company earlier this month. 

Beech-Nut said in a statement at the time that it would also be exiting the market for its Single Grain Rice Cereal, citing concerns about “the ability to consistently obtain rice flour well-below the FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic.” 

The lawmakers are also asking the FDA to provide additional details on its enforcement of guidance on inorganic arsenic levels and the process of actions for recalling products like the Beech-Nut infant rice cereal. 

The letter also requested an update on the FDA’s “Closer to Zero” initiative, which the agency unveiled in April with steps to “reduce exposure to toxic elements from foods eaten by babies and young children—to as low as possible.”

The February congressional report has already prompted a wave of actions and proposals by lawmakers seeking to ensure the safety of baby food products. 

In March, Klobuchar and Duckworth, along with Reps. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiOvernight Health Care: CDC encourages schools to open for in-person learning, masks optional | President directs moves on drug importation, calls for plan to lower drug prices | FDA asks for federal investigation of Alzheimer's drug approval Bipartisan lawmakers press NIH for info on deleted coronavirus data The tool we need to expand COVID-19 vaccinations world-wide MORE (D-Ill.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), introduced the Baby Food Safety Act to “strictly limit the levels of harmful heavy metals in baby food.”