Finding baby food without lead in it is actually harder than it seems. In a study by the Environmental Defense Fund, lead was found in 20 percent of baby food samples compared to 14 percent in other foods.
“The levels we found were relatively low, but when you add them up – with all the foods children eat … it’s significant,” said study author Tom Neltner of the Environmental Defense Fund to NPR.
The EDF analyzed 11 years of data from the Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study and found eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40 percent of samples. Versions of apple and grape juices as well as carrots made for babies had more samples of detectable lead than regular juices and carrots.
There is no safe level of lead for the blood, and even low levels of lead in children can cause behavioral issues and a lower IQ. The report said that more than 1 million children consume more lead than the FDA’s limit.
“Eliminating lead in food would save society more than $27 billion annually in total lifetime earnings from saved IQ points,” the report added.
The EDF focused on 57 types of baby food and divided the food into eight categories: root vegetables, non-root vegetables, fruits including juices, cereal, infant formula, prepared meals, crackers and cookies, and desserts. Even more specifically, the report said fruit juice was analyzed because it is more likely than other food types to contain soluble lead.
The analysis focused on detectable levels of lead because even low levels in the blood can increase the risk of harm to a child’s brain development. 52 of the 57 types of baby foods had at least one composite sample with detectable levels of lead.
Root vegetables had the highest rate of lead detection, with lead found in 65 percent of the composite samples. Crackers and cookies had lead found in 47 percent of its samples, while the fruits category found lead in 29 percent.
“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,” said Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health.
The FDA’s continued use of the 1993 Provisional Tolerable Total Dietary Intake level contrasts starkly with what science says today, the report said. The FDA has set lead limits for only a few foods, including bottled water, juice from berries and other small fruits, candy and dried fruits.
“In May 2017, FDA affirmed that it continues to use the PTTDI as the maximum daily intake level for lead exposure but also indicated it is reevaluating its standard,” the report said. “Such a reevaluation is long overdue and urgently needed since the level does not reflect the scientific discoveries of the past 25 years, which show that no safe level of lead in the blood of children has been identified.”