PARENTING
06/15/2017 03:21 pm ET

Baby Food More Likely To Contain Lead Than Normal Food, Study Finds

"There is no safe lead level."

A study released Thursday by the Environmental Defense Fund found lead in a surprising number of baby food samples, raising questions about manufacturing processes and federal standards.

The study, which analyzed 2,164 baby food samples, found lead in 20 percent of them, compared to just 14 percent of the 10,064 samples of other, non baby-specific foods tested. Which means: If you buy baby food, you’re six percent more likely to ingest lead than if you buy the regular version.

Researchers tested 57 different types of baby food overall and found detectable levels of lead in 52 of them.

While the report focuses on the number of baby foods that tested positive for lead, rather than the amount of lead in the individual samples, EDF did identify some especially problematic foods.

In particular, fruit juice stood out as a large offender. 89 percent of grape juice samples contained lead, followed by mixed fruit (67 percent), apple (55 percent) and pear (45 percent). Surprisingly, the “adult” versions of those juices contained less lead. “Only” 68 percent of normal grape juice tested positive for lead, while normal apple juice tested at 25 percent.

Other lead-laden baby foods identified by the report are root vegetables like sweet potatoes (86 percent) and carrots (43 percent), and cookies.

We do not know whether the results with no detectable levels were due to chance or a vigilant manufacturer with strong standards.

“We don’t know the source [of the lead].” Tom Neltner, EDF’s chemicals policy director said Thursday on a call with reporters. “We think that’s one of the big questions that needs to be answered: Where is it coming from?”

Neltner said soil, processing, and incidental contamination could all play a role.

“We do not know whether the results with no detectable levels were due to chance or a vigilant manufacturer with strong standards,” the report found.

The EDF didn’t identify any specific brands as particularly problematic, instead encouraging consumers to contact manufacturers directly and ask about lead levels and their food safety standards.

Concerned parents should also urge the FDA to update its lead standards, said the EDF, as they were set in 1993 and don’t reflect our growing knowledge of just how toxic lead can be ― especially for children.

“I think the onus is really on FDA and industry to change their standards to reflect what we know, that there is no safe lead level,” Jennifer A. Lowry, M.D., of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement. “These are old standards they currently have and they haven’t been updated in decades.” 

Even low levels of lead exposure has been shown to reduce childrens’ IQs, the CDC notes, causing damage that cannot be reversed.

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