June 28, 2022
Carson City, NV – Today, Attorney General Aaron D. Ford
announced he has joined a multistate coalition of 22 attorneys general in
calling on the heads of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and
Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take swift action to eliminate toxic metals
from baby food.
In a letter to FDA
Commissioner Robert M. Califf, Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis and USDA
Secretary Tom Vilsack, the coalition outlines key strategies for the federal
agencies that would allow them to take immediate and widespread action that
would drive down the levels of dangerous toxic metals in food for babies and
young children. This is the latest action in a series of efforts in response to
increasing alarm regarding the health hazards posed by lead, arsenic, cadmium
and mercury in baby foods.
“I will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure the FDA holds
baby food manufacturers and suppliers accountable for ensuring baby foods are
not rife with toxic metals,” said AG Ford. “We petitioned the FDA to
take action on this in October 2021, and we are currently pushing back against
their denial of that petition. We will never stop fighting to ensure our
children are not exposed to these toxins.”
The FDA has set or proposed limits on toxic
metals in a wide variety of other consumable products — such as bottled water,
juice and candy — but the agency has failed to adequately regulate baby food.
So far, the agency has established only one action level for one type of toxic
metal (inorganic arsenic) in one type of baby food product (infant rice
cereal), despite FDA concluding years ago that babies’ and young children’s
smaller bodies and metabolisms make them more vulnerable to the harmful
neurological effects of these toxic metals.
As a result, United States baby food
manufacturers are left to self-regulate the amounts of lead and other toxic
metals in their products. It remains up to the manufacturers to decide whether
to even test their products for these contaminants.
In April 2021, FDA announced the “Closer to
Zero” plan, under which the agency committed to proposing “action levels” for
lead in various baby foods by April 2022; inorganic arsenic in various baby
foods by April 2024; and cadmium and mercury sometime after April 2024.
However, the coalition notes that the plan is already behind schedule because
the FDA failed to propose lead action levels by the April deadline. This delay
is both a public health concern and a matter of environmental justice, as
low-income children and children of color are disproportionately impacted by
lead through exposures to lead-based paint, lead in drinking water pipes and
other sources. Lead in their food only exacerbates the existing inordinate and
inequitable hazards these children face.
In their letter, the coalition
urges the federal government to adopt interim measures recommended in the
2021 petition, which urged the FDA to issue
clear industry guidance for limiting toxic metals, such as:
- Proposing interim
limits for inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in relevant
categories of infant and toddler foods;
- Proposing a lower
limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal than that currently set
forth in FDA guidance; and
guidance to all baby food manufacturers to test their finished products
for toxic metals.
The FDA denied the October 2021 petition, but
the coalition asked FDA to expeditiously reconsider its denial of that petition
earlier this month.
Joining Attorney General Ford in sending this letter to FDA and USDA
leadership are the attorneys general of New York, California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland,
Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.