Watchdog report finds alarming 20% of baby food tested contains lead

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"We found that food is a concerning source of young children's exposure to lead", Tom Neltner, EDF Health's Chemicals Policy Director, said in a statement.

Lead often makes its way into food from contaminated soil; however, the researchers aren't sure why higher levels were food in baby food compared to general food samples.

In fact, nine out of 10 samples had detectable levels of lead for sweet potatoes and grape juice; it's about two out of three for arrowroot cookies, and about one in two samples for apple juice, carrots, and for teething biscuits, the study shows.

The Food and Drug Administration has a guidance level for lead of 100 parts per billion for candy and dried fruit and 50 parts per billion for fruit juices.

According to the study, children with elevated lead levels were not being tested or diagnosed.

"The FDA is continuing to work with industry to further limit the amount of lead in foods to the greatest extent feasible, especially in foods frequently consumed by children", the agency wrote. The allowable level for lead in bottled water is 5 ppb.

The EDF analyzed FDA data between 2003 and 2013 from the federal agency's "Total Diet Study", which tracks metals, pesticides and nutrients in food. Eight types of baby food had lead in more than 40 percent of samples. Aside from consuming lead through foods, people can inhale lead particles from lead-contaminated dust and water, as well as cosmetics, medicines and wall paints, the World Health Organization wrote.

The FDA has indicated that it is re-evaluating its standards for lead in foods. "The largest burden that we often think about is neurocognitive that can occur even at low levels of lead exposure".

Help minimize a child's lead exposure by having them eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.

This type of plot gives a ballpark idea of the percentage of the baby food being sold in the USA for certain levels of lead.

For the new analysis, the EDF sifted through 12,000 publicly available food tests from the 11 years.

Contamination also could happen during processing from lead leaching from older brass, bronze, plastic or coated food handling equipment that contains lead; or from deteriorated lead paint in the building. It should be possible to expand the number of products that fit into these categories, simply by understanding what some companies do right and replicating it.

The FDA does not identify the brands that were tested or the stores where they were purchased.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

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