Klobuchar, other democrats call on FDA for action on heavy metals in baby food

Klobuchar, other democrats call on FDA for action on heavy metals in baby food.

Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and other federal democrats are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address high levels of toxic heavy metals, including lead, found in baby food.

Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and other federal democrats are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address high levels of toxic heavy metals, including lead, found in baby food.

A letter sent by lawmakers to Rob Califf, the commissioner of the FDA, requests the agency take action after a voluntary recall was made in late October for applesauce fruit pouches that were contaminated with lead. According to the FDA, there have been at least 52 reports of children getting sick across 22 states – so far, none of those reports have been made in Minnesota.

RELATED: Several more children sickened by fruit pouches tainted with lead, FDA says

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In addition to that call for action, lawmakers are also asking for food pouches to be held to the same heavy metal safety standards as the food itself.

RELATED: Nearly two dozen toddlers sickened by lead linked to tainted applesauce pouches, CDC says

RELATED: More fruit pouches for kids are being recalled because of illnesses that are linked to lead

Klobuchar’s office released the full letter sent to Califf, and can be found below:

Dear Commissioner Califf,

In light of alarming recent reports of elevated levels of lead detected in certain food targeted at toddlers and young children, we write to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to swiftly finalize its Closer to Zero guidance for industry, Action Levels for Lead in Food Intended for Babies and Young Children. We also request FDA include the potential source of these recent cases of reported lead poisoning in young children, food puree pouches, in the finalized Closer to Zero guidance for industry. Last year, we wrote to you, requesting an update on when FDA would finalize action levels for lead in juices and processed baby foods, as well on FDA’s timeframe for its other Closer to Zero objectives. In light of recent harm caused by certain cinnamon applesauce and fruit puree products, it is clear that the agency must prioritize the work on heavy metal action levels.

Lead is toxic to people of all ages, but can be especially harmful to infants and young children. Lead exposure in children can potentially cause significant and irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system and slow a child’s growth and development. 

All food manufacturers have a responsibility by law to meaningfully minimize or prevent chemical hazards, including through preventive controls to reduce or eliminate the presence of lead in their products. However, as a 2021 investigation by the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy revealed, foods commonly eaten by babies and young children must be subject to higher standards of reduced heavy metals because these consumers are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of contaminants.

That is why it is particularly distressing to learn that elevated levels of lead recently have been detected in food puree pouches, which are intended for toddlers and young children. Specifically, 52 cases of elevated blood lead levels in children have been potentially linked to Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree pouches sold under WanaBana, Weis, and Schnucks brands. In fact, a finished product sample of WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Puree detected a lead level of 2.18 parts per million, which is 200 times greater than the action level the FDA has proposed in draft guidance for food products marketed and intended for babies and young children.

While we are pleased that the FDA has taken initial steps to address elevated lead levels in food, including launching a reorganization of the newly-unified Human Foods Program this year and appointing its first Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods in September, these recent cases of child lead poisoning make clear that more must be done. The Closer to Zero initiative is critical to provide information to industry on actions needed to reduce lead levels in food, yet progress made under the Closer to Zero action plan remains slow. We remain committed to working with our colleagues to secure funding for this important program.

We urge the Human Foods Program to use its new decision-making authority to swiftly finalize this guidance for industry regarding action levels for lead and other heavy metals in foods intended for babies and young children. Further, we request that food puree pouches similar to those recently recalled be included in the finalized guidance. Products such as these, which are heavily marketed to toddlers and children, must receive sufficient monitoring and testing for lead and other heavy metals. We stand ready to work with the FDA on achieving the Closer to Zero objectives and look forward to the finalized guidance. 

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, U.S. Representative Tony Cárdenas, U.S. Representative Katie Porter, U.S. Representative Sean Casten, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, and U.S. Representative Jason Moskowitz

This is the latest call for action involving oversight and regulation of baby food that Klobuchar has been a part of. According to her office, she was among a group of lawmakers to call on the FDA to lower high levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium in baby food.

Last year, she and nearly two dozen others called on the FDA to provide better regulation and oversight of baby food, and in 2021, she and another U.S. senator introduced the Baby Food Safety Act to limit the levels of harmful heavy metals in baby food in order to hold manufacturers accountable for lowering the amount of harmful heavy metals found in food for both infants and toddlers.