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Baby Food

Toxic element exposure in early life and toxic metals in tainted baby foods are top of mind for the USDA and FDA as they work to safeguard the food supply. In 2021, the US House Subcommittee issued a report on baby food tainted with toxic metals, spurring the US Food and Drug Administration to launch the Closer to Zero plan. The FDA then hosted an initial public webinar on toxic element exposure and nutrition during early developmental life stages. 

IFT’s role related to the Closer to Zero initiative can be described as advisory to the FDA and USDA as requested. IFT provided needed perspective on food processing and on related academic research needed. Core to IFT’s mission, we are hyper focused on serving as the voice for sound science.

In the December, IFT submitted comments to the FDA on the topic, where IFT highlighted the opportunity to leverage Codex as a basis for developing FDA guidance and standards on toxic elements in the food supply, specifically baby foods. 

IFT also participated in a special USDA-AFRI session on “Identification of Critical Knowledge Gaps to Ensure a Safe Food Supply” at the request of the USDA – specifically on the area of multidisciplinary knowledge gaps, like food processing, to mitigate toxic elements (e.g., beyond strictly agriculture related methods).  

In the USDA-AFRI session, IFT acknowledged: 

  • The opportunity to leverage not only the existing Codex standards, but also the scientific basis that was developed by global experts for those standards.
  • The European work with EFSA done on the topic (they have the most stringent limits on toxic elements globally – more stringent than Codex) is also something to be considered in the Closer to Zero effort.
  • That technologies exist for both grains and liquid food products (e.g., fruit juices) to mitigate levels of toxic elements by sorting or separation, they require some shorter-term research to adapt to various product arenas if needed to achieve FDA goals.
  • That many of the agricultural practice research approaches across the wide variety of agricultural products will require significant time to come to fruition.

On April 27th, USDA-FDA hosted a webinar on toxic elements in foods for babies and young children, focusing on “Impacts of Toxic Element Exposure and Nutrition in the Food System”. Members of IFT’s Science Policy Initiatives team participated and noted the following highlights:

  • USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf provided an overview of the Closer to Zero efforts within FDA and USDA.
  • Several USDA agricultural research programs aimed at Closer to Zero were reviewed
  • Toxic element analytical capabilities were shared
  • A review of toxic element absorption and bioavailability continues by the USDA
  • USDA shared a case study on economic impacts from Rice food safety concerns and a brief overlay map of agricultural production and toxic element soil content levels
  • Industry representatives shared perspectives on the impact of toxic elements in various food categories

Simultaneous to the meeting, FDA announced new draft guidance for industry proposing an action level of 10 ppb lead for single strength apple juice and 20 ppb lead in other juices and juice blends. The FDA noted they are in the process of filling data gaps on toxic elements in the food supply and more action levels for toxic elements will be released in the coming months.

IFT believes the Closer to Zero work is a critical component to strengthen physical and cognitive development in early childhood to help US children to thrive. IFT looks forward to continuing to engage with FDA in the Closer to Zero phase process as it proceeds.

You can learn more about IFT’s involvement in Codex here. And join us at IFT FIRST for a panel discussion about a variety of Codex topics related to food safety and trade with two long-term IFT Codex team hosts. The entire group will also engage with audience questions during the panel session. Learn more about the session and register for IFT FIRST today.

Author: Steve Havlik

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