Attorney General Ford Joins Multistate Coalition Demanding Swift Federal Action to Protect Children from Toxic Metals in Baby Foods

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 coalition’s October 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 
  • Providing 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.