EDF and Healthy Babies Bright Futures Withdraw from Baby Food Council After Companies Block Work on Voluntary Standard

(WASHINGTON – Nov. 5, 2021) — Today, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) withdrew from the Baby Food Council over the organization’s failure to reach an agreement on the development of a voluntary standard that we believe could have resulted in real progress toward reducing heavy metals in baby food.

The Council was a collaboration in 2019 by EDF, Cornell University’s Department of Food Science and four baby food companies seeking to reduce heavy metals in the companies’ products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management practice. HBBF joined as a member, and the US Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets served as technical advisors to the Council.

“EDF cofounded the Council because we believed there was a shared commitment to reduce levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium in baby food products to better protect children’s developing brains from these toxins,” said Tom Neltner, EDF’s Senior Director for Safer Chemicals. “Unfortunately, the companies chose to cease the Council’s development of a voluntary Baby Food Standard that it had begun in late 2020. The Standard would have provided companies with a common framework for progressively reducing contaminants by regular testing products and improving management practices, and for being transparent with consumers about the safety of their products. Negotiations failed to provide an alternative approach that EDF felt was sufficient to drive down levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium in baby food.”

“Healthy Babies Bright Futures is focused on tangibly reducing neurotoxic exposures to babies. The baby food companies’ refusal to jointly set limits for heavy metals in baby food has shown that the Council will no longer be the powerful mechanism for this important work that the initial plans had promised. The baby food companies’ decision to stop progress on a voluntary standard for heavy metals in baby food is a disappointment,” said Charlotte Brody, RN, HBBF’s National Director. “What started as dedication has turned into delay and intention has become inaction. So HBBF has decided to put our effort into other initiatives that will move the needle on this important issue.”

“Despite our withdrawal from the Council, EDF remains firmly dedicated to protecting children from heavy metals,” said EDF’s Tom Neltner. “It is imperative that the FDA fulfill and strengthen its Closer to Zero Action Plan and adopt standards necessary to protect children’s developing brains from lead, arsenic and cadmium in children’s food. We also recognize that corporate leadership is critical, and we will continue working with individual companies to raise the bar on addressing heavy metal contamination.”

EDF brought the urgent issue of lead in food, especially baby food, to national attention in 2017 with an analysis of a decade’s worth of data collected by the FDA that showed widespread contamination. Heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium, are well-known to harm children’s developing brains even at extremely low levels. Reports from Healthy Babies Bright Futures later in 2017 and 2018 and Consumer Reports in 2018 raised similar concerns with arsenic and other heavy metals in baby food. In response to those reports, the FDA launched an effort to reduce lead, arsenic, and cadmium in children’s food. The Council was formed shortly thereafter to catalyze public and private sector collaboration to meet this shared goal.

The Council made some progress since its inception including:

  • Evaluating labs that claimed to be able to measure low levels of lead, arsenic, and cadmium in food, finding that half failed the test. The Council ultimately identified 13 labs that meet rigorous criteria for accurately identifying metals in foods so that companies, suppliers and advocates could get trustworthy results.
  • Funding research at Cornell University, Louisiana State University, and Purdue University to identify best practices that can enable the companies to reduce heavy metal contamination in four important baby food ingredients – sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and quinoa.

For more information about lead, arsenic, and cadmium in children’s food, see here and here.

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