Keeping your baby safe and feeding your baby healthy food is at the top of parents’ priority list so it’s especially disturbing to learn baby food is more likely to contain lead than regular food.
A new study released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found 20% of baby food samples contained detectable lead levels as compared to regular food samples that showed only 14%. The EDF analyzed data from 2,164 baby food samples submitted from 2003 through 2013 as part of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Total Diet Study. The study examines food for nutrients, pesticides and metals.
Researchers found detectable lead levels in 52 of the 57 different types of baby food analyzed. The baby food most affected by lead included root vegetables, cookies and crackers, and fruit juices. Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots had the highest lead levels found in 65% of samples, followed by cookies and crackers with 47%, and fruit juices including grape, apple, pear and mixed fruit juices, found in 29% of the food samples. Only 4% of baby food cereals contained lead.
Food manufacturers have no answer for the source of the lead contamination although educated guesses include lead from the soil in which the food is grown, packaging, processing equipment, or the water supply used in making baby food.
Although lead in baby food is obviously concerning, “lead paint is still the number 1 source of exposure in this country by a wide margin,” according to Dr. Phil Landrigan from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Water is the second biggest source of lead contamination with food coming in third.
Regardless of the lead source, everyone agrees there are “no safe levels of lead in blood” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes lead kills developing brain cells and the resulting brain damage is irreversible. Sarah Vogel, vice president for health at the EDF, found the results particularly “concerning” for children younger than 6 years of age whose exposure to lead negatively affects their developing brains and can cause lower IQ’s and behavioral problems.
What’s also concerning is the lead levels found in baby food do not exceed federal standards, which were first laid out in 1993 and have not been updated. Dr. Landrigan explained, “All these lead levels…are within current standards, so the manufacturer has no duty to inform the consumer and FDA is not required to put out any warning.”
So what’s a conscientious parent to do? Study authors do not recommend avoiding all these baby foods, but urge parents to serve more fresh rather than processed foods, contact the FDA about updating food lead level standards, speak with your pediatrician about your concerns, and contact your baby food manufacturer to learn about their food safety standards and lead levels in baby food.