by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Children

Mar 9 2021

More on toxic metals in baby foods: FDA on the job!

Early in February I wrote about heavy metal toxins in baby foods.  A report, Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury, revealed:

  • Arsenic, led, cadmium, and mercury are present in commercial baby foods at levels much higher than considered safe.
  • Their sources: foods raised on contaminated soil and water, and vitamin/mineral pre-mixes.
  • Baby food companies set their own safety standards for toxic metals.
  • The FDA knows baby foods have high levels of toxic metals but isn’t doing anything about it.
  • Some baby food companies refused to share data on this topic.

Politico has been following this story.  It reports:

In response to the “Tainted” report, the FDA now says it will set standards.

The FDA wrote baby food manufacturers to shape up.  The FDA, it says,

 is taking this opportunity to remind all baby and toddler food manufacturers and processors covered by the preventive control provisions of the rule Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food…of your responsibility under the rulemaking to consider chemical hazards that may be present in foods when conducting your hazard analysis….FDA takes exposure to toxic elements in the food supply extremely seriously, especially when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the youngest and most vulnerable in the population.

And the FDA issued a statement to the food industry. 

Toxic elements are in the environment, and therefore in the food supply. The levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium in certain foods depends on many factors, including: growing conditions; manufacturing and agricultural processes; past or current environmental contamination; and the genetic capacity of food crops to take up elements. We share the public’s concerns for the health of America’s children, and want to reassure parents and caregivers that at the levels we have found through our testing, children are not at an immediate health risk from exposure to toxic elements in foods. The FDA routinely monitors levels of toxic elements in food, and if we find that they pose a health risk, the FDA takes steps to remove those foods from the market.

Research has shown that reducing exposure to toxic elements is important to minimizing any potential long-term effects on the developing brains of infants and children. As such, this issue is among FDA’s highest priorities and we are actively working to make progress on identifying and implementing impactful solutions to make foods commonly consumed by infants and young children safer.

In the meantime, here’s what Beech Nut says on its website.

Toxic heavy metals are not good for babies’ health.  Baby food companies need to do much better in getting rid of these things if they want anyone to keep buying their products.

What to do in the meantime?  Feed kids small amounts of as wide a variety of foods as possible.  That’s good advice anyway.

Feb 9 2021

Uh oh. Baby foods contain toxic metals—arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury

The big news in food politics last week: revelations about toxic metals in baby foods.

This is not a new topic, as I’ve discussed previously with respect to arsenic in rice cereal.  Babies should be eating the healthy foods parents eat, just mashed or cut to size so they don’t choke.  Commercial baby food is a convenience for sure, but not at the price of babies’ health.

What’s new are these revelations:

  • Arsenic, led, cadmium, and mercury are present in commercial baby foods at levels much higher than considered safe.
  • Their sources: foods raised on contaminated soil and water, and vitamin/mineral pre-mixes.
  • Baby food companies set their own safety standards for toxic metals.
  • The FDA knows baby foods have high levels of toxic metals but isn’t doing anything about it.
  • Some baby food companies refused to share data on this topic.

This news comes from, of all places, the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee in a report titled Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

The Food and Drug Administration has set the maximum allowable levels in bottled water at 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb lead, and 5 ppb cadmium, and the Environmental Protection Agency has capped the allowable level of mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb. The test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipse those levels: including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.

Furthermore,

The Subcommittee has grave concerns about baby food products manufactured by Walmart (Parent’s Choice), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell (Plum Organics). These companies refused to cooperate with the Subcommittee’s investigation.

The Subcommittee complains:

  • Contaminated baby foods do not carry warning labels
  • Manufacturers do not have to test for heavy metals.
  • The FDA has only one standard for heavy metals in baby food—a 100 ppb inorganic arsenic standard for infant rice cereal.  Even this is too high.

The Subcommittee recommends:

  • Mandatory testing of baby foods for heavy metals
  • Mandatory labeling of toxic heavy metals
  • Voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients (rice, for example, is high in arsenic)
  • Mandatory FDA standards for maximum levels of toxic metals in baby foods
  • Parental vigilance: Avoid commercial baby foods containing toxic heavy metals.

Consumer Reports, which has been complaining about this problem for years (see CR’s 2019 testing of fruit juices and CR’s 2014 tests) , explains:

Heavy metals all are part of the earth’s crust, so they are naturally found in the environment. But most of the heavy metals in food come from soil or water that has been contaminated through either farming and manufacturing practices (such as pesticide application, mining, and smelting) or pollution (such as the use of leaded gasoline).

Its recommendations for parents and caretakers:

  • Ease up on fruit juice
  • Consider making your own
  • Minimize baby food snacks
  • Vary the foods you feed your child

Its recommendations for the FDA:

  • Establish aggressive targets
  • Create and enforce benchmarks
  • Finalize existing proposed guidelines

Comment: This is a scandal and an emergency.  Parents should be warned off  baby foods that test high in any of these heavy metals.  Now.

Press accounts:

Update, February 16: the FDA’s response to the congressional report

 

 

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Oct 25 2019

Weekend reading: Kid Food (!)

Bettina Elias Siegel.  Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.  Oxford University Press, 2019.

Image result for siegel kid food

I did a blurb for this book but it is so good, so well written, and so important that nothing I can say can do it justice.

Everyone who cares about what kids eat must read Bettina Siegel’s fabulous Kid Food.  This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field.  Kid Food provides the evidence and the resources; it should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies—right now.

The book is a treasure for what it says about feeding kids in America today—an instant classic.  Its Appendix alone makes the book a must-have: it lists resources for how to feed kids but also for how to advocate for them.

I could have picked excerpts from anywhere in the book but I’m taking the easy route and quoting from the book’s ending as an example of why this book is so worth reading.

Right now, American children are being shortchanged daily by a diet that feeds but doesn’t nourish, that staves off immediate hunger but opens the door to later disease.  The factors leading to this tragic outcome are all too human: naked corporate greed; parental ignorance, confusion, and fatigue; practical necessity, for those who can’t afford healthier food; and, in the case of “treats,” even simple love and affection.   Improving the current paradigm will require not just pushing back against powerful corporate interests, but also shifting a deeply entrenched food culture.  That’s a very heavy lift, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t make it any less urgent or critical.  And the good news is, there is no shortage of opportunities to pitch in.

Dec 28 2018

Weekend reading: a kids’ book about cooking—in French

Hélène Laurendeau and Catherine Desforges , illustrated by Stéphanie Aubin.  Je Cuisine Avec Toi.  Edito, 2018.

Image result for je cuisine avec toi

Here’s a way to teach kids French and cooking at the same time.  The book is about cooking as a fun activity for kids, but without recipes.   The authors explain:

You get to play with tools, measure ingredients, get dirty, and even lick the spoon at the end…We wanted to teach kids to persevere and to know that the important thing is to enjoy the process, not just the result.

It’s witty and entertaining for parents as well as kids.

The authors are looking for a way to get the book translated into English.  If you have any ideas about who can help with that, contact helene@helenelaurendeau.com.

 

Aug 27 2018

Childhood poverty is increasing, alas

The proportion of U.S. children living in poverty, says the USDA, is higher than it was before the Great Recession of 2008 and seems to be increasing, particularly in rural areas and the South.

Overall, nearly 20%—one-fifth—of U.S. children were living in poverty, an increase of more than one million children since 2007.

The percentage for rural children is 23.5%.

More than half (56%) of all US counties have high rates of child poverty.

An astonishing 86% of rural counties in the South have high rates.

Mississippi has the highest prevalence of rural child poverty—82% of counties in that state have child poverty rates of 20% or more.

Poverty is not good for health.

We have a lot of work to do.

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Feb 16 2018

Weekend reading for kids: Eat This!

Andrea Curtis.  Eat This!  How Fast-Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back).  Red Deer Press, 2018.

This, amazingly, is a 36-page toolkit for fighting marketing to kids, with endorsements from Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver, among others.

As I read it, it’s a manual for teaching food literacy to kids—teaching them how to think critically about all the different ways food and beverage companies try to get kids to buy their products or pester their parents to do so.

The “fighting back” part takes up just two pages, but it suggests plenty of projects that kids can do:

Do taste tests of fast food and the same thing home made.  “Which one is more delicious, more expensive, more healthy?  Which creates the least amount of waste?”

Watch your favorite show…Mark down how many times you see product placement.”

“Quick: think of all the fast-food mascots you know by name…Who are the mascots aimed at?”

The illustrations are kid-friendly as is the text.  I’m guessing this could be used easily with kids from age 8 on.

 

Sep 13 2017

FDA approves “qualified health claim” for early introduction of peanuts

I was interested to see the FDA’s announcement that it “acknowledges” and will “exercise enforcement discretion” (translation: will not oppose) a qualified health claim linking the early introduction of peanuts into the diets of young children with severe eczema or egg allergies as a means to reduce their risk of peanut allergy.

Here’s the claim, which the FDA says manufacturers can use right away:

For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

The FDA’s decision is based on:

But why a qualified health claim?  Whenever you see one, you know that business interests are at stake.

In this case, the claim is in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, Inc., maker of Hello Peanut products.  Check the astonishing prices of these products and you can see why this company wanted a health claim, and why it is already advertising it.

Really, you can do this at home.  We are talking here about starting high-risk kids out—under medical supervision—with a small taste of plain, ordinary peanut butter.

The FDA allows qualified health claims because industry wants them for marketing and pressures Congress to force the FDA to allow them.

What’s wrong with qualified health claims?  The qualifications get lost in the marketing.  Parents may think Hello Peanut works better than much less expensive alternatives.

 The FDA documents

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