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It is not possible to remove all traces of lead from the food supply because the heavy metal is found throughout the environment and can be taken up by plants. Therefore traces of it are found in vegetables, fruit and cereals used to make baby food.
But because exposure to toxic metals can be harmful to brain development, the Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines to reduce children’s exposure to as low a level as possible.
The new FDA guidance calls for limiting lead concentrations in all processed foods intended for infants and children under the age of two. Lead concentrations should now be limited to 10 parts per billion in fruits, vegetables and meats packed in baby food jars, bags, tubs and boxes. The goal is 20 parts per billion for dry grains.
The FDA estimates that these lower levels could result in a 24 to 27 percent reduction in lead exposure, resulting in “long-term, significant and sustainable reductions in exposure to this contaminant from these foods,” according to a statement from the commissioner. of FDA Robert Califf.
“We know that the fewer these metals in children’s bodies, the better,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So, he says the goal should be to minimize the amount of lead a child is exposed to.
“Parents need to recognize that in some cases foods naturally contain metals,” she says. So it’s best to “feed your child a variety of foods to the extent possible.” Some foods will have more lead than others, and a varied diet is also good for nutrition, so following “good nutrition guidance will also reduce your exposure to these metals,” says Bernstein.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has several tips for parents on how to reduce children’s exposure to heavy metals: Serve a variety of foods, read labels, change infant cereals, and check water supplies for metals. heavy.
Also, offer toddlers and young children sliced or pureed fruit instead of fruit juices, because some fruit juices can contain worrying levels of heavy metals.
“Fruit juices can have as much, if not more, of these same metals that we’re trying to minimize,” says Bernstein. And he says the juice is a “sugar shot” for kids, so nutritionally it’s a good thing to avoid.
The FDA says there has already been a dramatic decline in lead exposure from foods since the mid-1980s. Lead was phased out of gasoline and paint decades ago, and there is currently a lot of federal funding to replace old water pipes that contain lead, prompted in part in response to shocking stories of lead poisoning in places like Flint, in the Michigan.
NYU Langone Health pediatrician Dr. Leonardo Trasande says the FDA is moving in the right direction with these new targets, but we’ve known about these toxins for decades, he says.
“As much as this is a small step in limiting toxic exposures to children’s health, the FDA has been glacial in its pace of addressing new and emerging contaminants,” he says.
Chemicals such as phthalates, used in packaging, can leach into food. Trasande says we need to know how these compounds can impact children’s health as well.