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Is the FDA Doing Enough to Protect Kids From Lead in Juice?

Brief Summary: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a draft action to reduce the industry guidance level for lead in juice products from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for other juice blends.

What We Are Saying: “Young children are especially vulnerable to dangerous levels of lead in juice and foods. Even in small amounts, young children exposed to lead can develop learning disabilities, behavior difficulties, and lowered IQ. While moving the guidance level from 50 ppb to 10 ppb is getting ‘closer to zero,’ it’s not nearly enough to protect kids from the known harms of lead exposure. – Baby Food Lawyer Pedram Esfandiary

What You Can Do: Parents can speak with an attorney about pursuing a baby food lawsuit against certain manufacturers for knowingly selling products with dangerously high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. If your child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after consuming baby foods from Beech-Nut, Gerber, Earth's Best Organic, Happy Family Organics (Happy BABY), Parent's Choice (Walmart), Plum Organics, or Sprout Foods, you may be eligible to join a baby food lawsuit.

What to Know About the FDA Plan to Reduce Lead in Juice

What is the Problem with Lead in Juice?

Fruit juices—apple and grape juice in particular—contain high levels of toxic heavy metals. These juices are favorites among young children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of arsenic, lead, and mercury. Young children exposed to heavy metals may be at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems, neurodevelopmental disorders, type 2 diabetes, and other serious health issues.

Independent testing has found disturbingly high levels of lead and arsenic in juices. In 2019, for example, Consumer Reports tested 45 juice products from Gerber, Walmart, Minute Maid, Whole Foods, and other brands. The testing found that nearly half of all the products contained “concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead.” Of the products that had concerning levels of toxic heavy metals, seven juice products “could harm children who drink 4 ounces (½ cup) or more a day,” and “nine of them pose risks to kids at 8 ounces (1 cup) or more a day.”

In a survey of more than 3,000 parents with children three years of age and younger, over 80% of respondents said they give their kids fruit juice at least sometimes. Roughly 74% of those parents said their kids drink fruit juice at least once a day.

Why is There Lead in Juice?

After the 2019 report found high levels of arsenic and lead in fruit juices, Welch’s, one of the largest fruit juice manufacturers in the industry, responded by saying:

“Naturally occurring elements such as lead and arsenic are present in the soil, air, and water. Therefore, they are also found in very low, harmless levels in many fruits and vegetables."

The levels of heavy metals observed in some juices, however, are not “very low.” And while it may be true that heavy metals exist in the environment at ambient levels, the levels of lead found in some juices dwarf environmental ambient levels and are the result of an industry “more concerned with profit than selling products safe for children’s consumption,” says baby food lawyer Pedram Esfandiary.

“It is 100% possible for the industry to produce products that are not loaded with arsenic and lead,” Esfandiary says. “We know this because there are plenty of responsible baby food companies out there that make products untainted with heavy metals.”

Food companies can make fruit juices that do not have high levels of lead by using alternative ingredients, not adding certain pre-mix minerals and vitamins high in heavy metals, or sampling their ingredients from responsible sources that do not use toxic pesticides.

Why is Lead in Juice Dangerous for Kids?

Lead is a potent neurotoxin capable of causing damage. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that there is “no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects.” Unlike other toxins, lead cannot be eliminated through metabolism and excretion; our bodies lack the ability to purge lead.

Lead is particularly dangerous to children because it is capable of causing:

  • Decreased cognitive function
  • Altered mood and behaviors that may contribute to learning deficits, including attention deficits, hyperactivity, autistic behaviors, conduct disorders, and delinquency.
  • Altered neuromotor and neurosensory function, including gross and fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, and hearing threshold, even at levels as low as <10 μg/dL.

Young kids are especially vulnerable to the dangers of lead exposure because their brains are still developing, and due to their smaller size, more lead is absorbed into their bodies when compared to adults.

What is the FDA Doing About Lead in Fruit Juice?

Last week, the FDA announced new guidance levels for apple juice and other juice blends to reduce allowable lead levels from 50 ppb to 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for “all other single-strength juice types, including juice blends that contain apple juice.”

Per the agency, the nonbinding guidance levels are “intended to encourage manufacturers to maintain lead levels in juices below the action levels, thus reducing risks associated with dietary lead exposures.”

The agency says the new guidance levels for lead in juice represent an “important step forward in advancing FDA’s Closer to Zero action plan, which we are confident will have a lasting public health impact on current and future generations.”

The FDA launched Closer to Zero last April. The plan aims to reduce heavy metals in baby foods to levels “as low as possible.” Without question, any action to reduce heavy metals in baby food should be viewed as a positive. However, our firm has expressed skepticism that Closer to Zero is not enough to protect young children from the known harms of mercury, lead, and arsenic in baby food products.

“It isn’t like we are just now learning about heavy metals and the dangers they pose to kids,” says Esfandiary. “the harmful effects of these toxic metals on children are long established in the scientific literature.”

The FDA announced a similar plan to reduce arsenic in apple juice in 2013 after independent testing found high levels in certain juices. The agency has yet to formally adopt the plan.

“The FDA has all of this data and more at its disposal, and yet it seems to be more concerned with how the proposed action levels will affect the industry instead of protecting people—young children, no less—from known harm,” Esfandiary adds.

In late 2021, Esfandiary submitted a public comment on the FDA’s Closer to Zero plan. While the comment was addressing heavy metals in baby foods, the sentiment can easily be applied to the agency’s proposed guidance level for juices:

“The well-being of future generations should not be predicated on the levels that industry deems economically acceptable to achieve for the foods that companies manufacture. The Agency’s goal must be the eradication of such metals from baby foods. However, even if the Agency is to ensure that metal levels in foods are “as low as possible”, that goal can only be met if the Agency acknowledges the very real risk to the health of children posed by these metals today.”

Is There a Lawsuit for Lead in Baby Food?

Yes. The baby food lawyers from the Baum Hedlund law firm represent more than 1,000 parents from across the nation who seek to hold Gerber, Hain, Walmart, and other manufacturers accountable for knowingly selling juices and food products loaded with lead and other heavy metals linked to ASD and ADHD. The National Desk’s investigative journalism series Spotlight on America, recently featured our law firm in an in depth report on our “groundbreaking” baby food lawsuit on behalf of a seven-year-old boy with ASD and ADHD. We are currently preparing the first-of-its-kind case for trial.

Baum Hedlund has the experience needed to earn justice and maximize compensation for parents who allege their child’s autism and/or ADHD was caused by the heavy metals found in certain baby foods. To see if you qualify for a baby food lawsuit, fill out our confidential case evaluation form or give us a call at (855) 948-5098 to schedule an appointment with an attorney who can answer all your questions.
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