What do we think should be the allowable levels of lead in baby food? How about none? It shouldn't even be a point of discussion. Zero should be the goal. Unfortunately, according to a new report from Environmental Defense Fund, an analysis of 11 years of federal data found detectable levels of lead in 20 percent of 2,164 baby food samples.
Not to worry, we're told. None of the baby food samples appear to exceed the Food and Drug Administration's allowable levels of lead. As pointed out by the Gerber Products Company in comment — a company which in no way was singled out in this report — samples of its baby foods and juices "consistently fall well within the available guidance levels and meet our own strict standards." And samples of Gerber juices were all below the Environmental Protection Agency standard for drinking water.
For years, pediatricians and public health researchers have been hammering away at potential lead exposure risks for children from sources such as paint chips and contaminated drinking water. It now appears we have to add processed foods for children to the list. It starts to add up.
A draft report released earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than 5 percent of children consume more than 6 micrograms per day of lead. This represents the maximum daily intake level set by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993. It also represents a standard that hasn't been updated in decades.
According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.
"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," pediatrician Jennifer Lowry tells NPR. Dr. Lowery chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health.
"Lead can have a number of effects on children and it's especially harmful during critical windows of development," Dr. Aparna Bole, pediatrician at University Hospital's Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland tells CNN. "The largest burden that we often think about is neurocognitive that can occur even at low levels of lead exposure."
The Environmental Defense Fund study found that the baby food versions of apple juice, grape juice and carrots had detectable lead more often than the regular versions. In response to the report, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that said, in part, that they are 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 operative word here is "limit."
Making food products "lead free" seems to be more of a challenge than the government or manufacturers care to take on. For example, if lead is in the soil, it can be absorbed by crops growing in that soil and therefore not simply removed, a concern raised in a Food and Drug Administration fact sheet.
It also should be pointed out that the Environmental Defense Fund isn't recommending that parents avoid certain foods or brands for their children. They are merely advising parents to consult with their pediatrician about all means of lead exposure. Their main objective seems to be to facilitate revisions of federal standards to better reflect current science, especially for specific sources of exposure for kids. The fear of not going further with their recommendations seems to be that, in reaction to this news, parents might begin to restrict their child's diet or limit their intake of healthy food groups as a result.
Meanwhile, on another front, Michigan's top prosecutor recently announced that five government officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of a dozen citizens because they knew about Flint's water contamination but failed to warn the public; a legal action that is virtually unheard of in this country.
If we accept the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health's warning that that there is no such thing as a safe lead level, is merely establishing a lower "acceptable" level enough of a goal? Maybe it's time that "lead free" is something that is applied to more than gasoline and products such as children's toys.
There is every indication that Americans today are starting take a hard look at how food figures in their lives, how that food is produced and what it contains. In a July 2015 Gallup phone poll of Americans 18 and older, 61 percent said they actively try to avoid regular soda; 50 percent try to avoid sugar; and 93 percent said they try to eat vegetables. There is also a movement afoot designed to promote more freedom of food choice for consumers. Called the food sovereignty movement, it's designed to allow cities and towns to regulate local food production regardless of state and federal regulations. At least two states — Wyoming and Maine — have passed such laws.
Would people, if asked, also support a movement to completely eliminate lead from our water and from the food we eat? There seems little doubt. If lead contamination is coming from the soil, then let's remediate that soil. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out there is no known safe level of lead for anyone to eat, drink or breathe in. And, when it comes to small children, lead can kill developing brain cells. There is no way to reverse that damage.
The Food and Drug Administration says it's in the process of reevaluating the analytical methods it uses for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers. As if the question — and the needed answer — were in doubt.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.