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June 21, 2017

20 percent of baby foods contain lead, report finds

Daily Briefing

Baby foods might be more likely than adult versions of food to contain lead, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

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For the report, EDF reviewed and analyzed data from 2003 to 2013 from FDA's Total Diet Study program, which tracks metals, nutrients, and pesticides found in foods across four regions of the United States. Overall, EDF looked at 2,164 composite samples of baby food and 10,064 composite samples of other foods to examine the presence of lead. EDF did not identify the food samples by brand.


According to the report, FDA identified lead in 20 percent of baby food samples, compared with 14 percent of samples of other foods. FDA most commonly found the toxic metal—which CDC says is not safe at any level in a child's blood—in fruit juices, root vegetables, and cookies.

For instance, the researchers found:

  • 89 percent of grape juices for babies contained lead, compared with 68 percent of regular grape juices;
  • 55 percent of apple juices for babies contained lead, compared with 25 percent of regular apple juices; and
  • 44 percent of carrots for babies contained lead, compared with 14 percent of regular carrots. 


Tom Neltner, the author of the report and the chemicals policy director for EDF, said he could not explain why baby food contained lead more often than other foods, but he assumed it might be because baby food "is processed more." According to FDA, lead typically enters food through contaminated soil.

Aparna Bole, a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital who was not involved in the report, said, "Avoiding all sources of exposure of lead poisoning is incredibly important … but the last thing I would want is for a parent to restrict their child's diet or limit their intake of healthy food groups." For instance, she said parents should not stop feeding their children root vegetables because "the benefits of those nutritious foods far outweigh any risk."

EDF also said it does not recommend parents stop feeding their children those food items, but instead recommends parents consult with their children's pediatricians about the various sources of lead exposure.

In response to the report, FDA said the agency "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." FDA added that it "is in the process of re-evaluating 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" (Zuraw, Kaiser Health News, 6/15; Environmental Defense Fund report, 6/15).

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