A coalition of companies and others formed last January announced Thursday it was taking on “the challenge of reducing heavy metals in young children’s food.

With the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  as “technical advisors to the effort,” The Baby Food Council, organized in January by Cornell University and the Environmental Defense Fund, includes infant and toddler food companies among its key stakeholders.

The organization’s goal is to “reduce heavy metals in the companies’ products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management practices.”

The Baby Food Council brings together parties that might ordinarily oppose one another in the interest of achieving common goals instead.  It is open to all companies that source ingredients, manage the upstream supply chain, and nationally market foods for children six to 24 months of age in the United States.

Over 150 baby and toddler foods recently tested contained detectable levels of heavy metals. The children’s health advocacy group, Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), sponsored the study.

“The latest federal data from FDA on lead in food shows that the percent of samples with detectable levels remain stubbornly high for certain foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and teething biscuits,” said Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director at Environmental Defense Fund. “The HBBF report reinforces the need to better understand the best practices to sustainably reduce heavy metals not just in baby food but all food. We are pleased to be a member of the Council to work towards that goal and solve this important challenge.”

The Council statement said it was ‘”recognizing that heavy metals are widely present in the environment and can get into food,” and its new target would be ” to reduce levels of heavy metals in food products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management techniques.”

It said the HBBF report highlights the challenges and reinforces the need for more action to address the problem.  ” The report documented detectable amounts of lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic in commercial baby foods as well as other foods commonly consumed by young children,” it said.

The HBBF study itself said parents “cannot shop their way out of these exposures” by switching to organic foods or going with store brand purees. The metals are just too common across the marketplace.

The report did recommend actions to help address the issue of heavy metals in foods, including some suggestions for government and food manufacturers. Importantly, it also offered simple steps for parents to help minimize exposure as the Council’s efforts to lower levels continue.

In addition to leading food companies, the Council includes academic, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as partners and advisors.  Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Campbell Soup Company (Plum Organics), Gerber Products Company, The Hain Celestial Group (Earth’s Best), Happy Family Organics, and HBBF are also Council members.

“Although heavy metals are naturally occurring in the environment, we are always looking to reduce their presence in food. Earth’s Best is excited to partner with the members of the Baby Food Council to support this important initiative,” said Raul Fajardo, Senior Vice President Technical Services, The Hain Celestial Group.

Early efforts of the Council focused on identifying those foods and ingredients with the most potential to contribute to heavy metal exposure in young children.

From here, it will be working to determine best practices that can reduce heavy metal levels in these foods. This work will initially focus on the environment, understanding that heavy metals are widely present in soil and water and may become part of foods as they grow.

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