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Medicine Science

Watchdog Report Finds Alarming 20 Percent of Baby Food Tested Contains Lead (arstechnica.com) 192

According to an analysis released Thursday by the nonprofit advocacy group, the Environmental Defense Fund, twenty percent of 2,164 baby foods sampled between 2003 and 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration tested positive for lead. Ars Technica reports: Lead is a neurotoxin. Exposure at a young age can permanently affect a developing brain, causing lifelong behavioral problems and lower IQ. Though the levels in the baby food were generally below what the FDA considers unsafe, the agency's standards are decades old. The latest research suggests that there is no safe level of lead for children. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency this year has estimated that more than five percent of U.S. children (more than a million) get more than the FDA's recommended limit of lead from their diet. The products most often found to contain lead were fruit juices, root vegetable-based foods, and certain cookies, such as teething biscuits, the EDF reports. Oddly, the presence of lead was more common in baby foods than in the same foods marketed for adults. For instance, only 25 percent of regular apple juice tested positive for lead, while 55 percent of apple juices marketed for babies contained lead. Overall, only 14 percent of adult foods tested contained lead. The findings come from data collected in the FDA's annual survey of foods, called the Total Diet Survey, which the agency has run since the 1970s. Each year, the agency samples 280 types of foods from three different cities across the country, tracking nutrients, metals, pesticides, and other contaminants.

Watchdog Report Finds Alarming 20 Percent of Baby Food Tested Contains Lead

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  • Well crap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @09:13PM (#54637153)
    Makes sense. It's in our water supply after all. That said, I'm not expecting the Trump administration to take action on this. And I sure as hell don't expect Congress too. Man, a functioning government sure would be nice right about now...
    • Yes, Well crap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @10:04PM (#54637403) Homepage Journal

      How does this crap get modded up in a tech forum?

      There's no insight, no tech content, no explanation - just a childish swipe at the elected president.

      And to top it off, anyone with half a brain or more would immediately recognize that the times cited in the OP were years before Trump, and mostly during Obama... so that the post casts aspersions on Obama more than Trump.

      We're supposed to be the smart people in the room. One side just got done ginning up a sniper to take out the other side - do we really have to stand for this nonsense?

      This forum depends on our participation. Can't we just take back control and refuse to mod up this sort of crap?

      • Re:Yes, Well crap (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @10:32PM (#54637491)

        How does this crap get modded up in a tech forum?

        The article itself is garbage. It contains no useful information whatsoever, other that that lead is "detectable". Well, no shit. Lead is detectable in seawater, and even in the atmosphere. The only curious fact is that there were actual a few samples that did NOT detect lead. The only plausible explanation for that is that they were using crappy instruments.

        If TFA had been written by a non-idiot, it would have listed the actual levels and compared them to safety standards, or at least normal background levels. But then it would have been obvious that there was actually no "news" worth reporting.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          How does this crap get modded up in a tech forum?

          The article itself is garbage. It contains no useful information whatsoever, other that that lead is "detectable".

          Correct you are about the poor quality of the article, Bill, but this has absolutely no bearing on the fact that the original "Well Crap" comment was idiotic crap that should not have been modded up. You fail this simple test of basic reasoning, Bill, and I am afraid I have no choice but to consider you a dumbass now.

        • by Rujiel ( 1632063 )
          So on top of shilling for coal and AGW junk, now you're doing cleanup for the food industry? Damn dude, who isn't paying you?
        • Re:Yes, Well crap (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Saturday June 17, 2017 @01:48AM (#54637945) Homepage

          Non-idiots would have simply checked the cited source [edf.org], where all the numbers you're looking for are clearly displayed, before declaring it not worth reporting.

          If you had, you'd see the 1993 FDA lead limit was no more than 6 micrograms/day for young children - and that e.g. baby rice cereal was found to contain up to 82 parts per billion. Which means that feeding your baby 100g of that cereal would already exceed the daily limit by 37%, without including other sources.

          And again, you missed the whole point of the article, which was asking why baby food has more detectable lead in it than similar adult foods, especially as babies are so much more sensitive to its toxic effects.

        • "The article itself is garbage. It contains no useful information whatsoever, other that that lead is "detectable". Well, no shit. Lead is detectable in seawater, and even in the atmosphere"

          The article was a classic BeauHD find.

      • just a childish swipe at the elected president.

        Presidents are selected, not elected.

      • Re:Yes, Well crap (Score:5, Interesting)

        by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Saturday June 17, 2017 @02:05AM (#54637969)
        I'm not sure I agree with you regarding whether we're supposed to be the smart people in the room.

        I tend to spend that majority of my time on Slashdot with hopes for an interesting science or engineering article that makes it worth my while to read the comments.As that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should, I'm not willing to give up and I spend the rest of my time here reading comments to see if there's someone I can contradict instead of simply doing something useful with my life.

        It is very likely that many people on Slashdot are genuinely smart people... when speaking in terms of engineering knowledge. It's possible they are also skilled at historical knowledge. But it generally strikes me that most of us are relatively clueless when considering topics outside of our scopes of expertise... like politics and law. Though, it seems that every single post on Slashdot will have at least a few gripes about the elected administration. And given the diversity of the audience on Slashdot, I believe all political beliefs are fairly well represented... and noisy it seems.

        Over the years, I believe that Slashdot has helped me greatly to understand politics better as well. I now truly understand the two party system. I also understand why people argue over who is president. It's unintentionally orchestrated. I don't believe there's a mastermind or two behind it. I believe that people are so well programmed that we feel the need to join teams.

        - Liverpool vs. Chelsey
        - Mets vs. Yankees
        - Red vs. Black
        - Black vs. White
        - America vs. (whoever is convenient at this time)
        - America vs. everyone else just because we have to be better because we are Americans... so let's just piss on everyone
        - Libtards vs. Right wing nut jobs.
        - Jews vs. Muslims
        - Christians vs Christians

        Consider the approach of how sports teams work. It doesn't matter what sports team you support, there are rarely players on that team which are from the regions which their teams represent. Instead, some team owner (also unlikely from the area) will put a great deal of effort into recruiting talent from wherever they can for however much money they can. When the team is assembled, a group of people will get together and try and teach them to play together and work as a group. Then, they will through a very organized system play a bunch of games with other teams and attempt to monetize their efforts through many different methods. The more successful teams can afford the better players or at least the more exciting players and can generate stir. That stir causes people to not just pay to watch these games, but also to invest in the purchase of licensed merchandise such as hats and t-shirts or oddly enough, towels... which are meant to wipe up spilled beer... which they'll wear as clothing... as if they were bar maids... from the age of 2 or 3.

        What's the rationality of this working? In order for this to work, people have to be willing to pay to watch basically a bunch of kids play games, buy merchandise and more. But society has programmed us to believe we absolutely have to "be part of something more than ourselves". We have to be part of a team. As though the performance of these children in costumes playing with a ball will have some impact on our lives in a spiritually meaningful way.

        Consider this. People may justify the behavior or watching sports because they like to see experts at work and see they greatest athletes of the world playing. And that makes sense. It's even sensible that a person could form something of an emotional attachment to a player because of many different reasons. I personally for example like the color green. There's no rational reason for it, I simply find it pleasing. What is completely illogical is that people believe it's important who wins.

        That's the problem. It matters who won. Instead of simply enjoying the grace of a great athlete, it is really important that the individual
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Powercntrl ( 458442 )

        There's no insight, no tech content, no explanation - just a childish swipe at the elected president

        Shouldn't have to explain this, but contaminated baby food is precisely one of those situations where the government should step in and "interfere" with capitalism. In case you haven't been paying attention, the Obama administration is over and while you're free to blame whatever you want on him, work towards resolving issues has to be performed by the *current* administration.

        The Trump administration could actually be considered pro-contamination [independent.co.uk], without much of a stretch. It's reasonable to assume they

      • Talks about how it's unfair to criticize the sitting president with no "insight" or "explanation"...

        -insert funny meme image-

        Accuses the entire left, somehow, of being responsible for the lone actions of a violent psychopath...

        ---------

        Furthermore, there was was a right wing lunatic that killed a couple of people on a bus, in Portland, a little while ago, for politically motivated reasons. Do we get to pin that on all of the right wing? Is that the way logic works?

      • It was modded up because it's probably correct. Trump has been dismantling organizations like the EPA since he entered office, there's every reason for us to be pessimistic that anything will happen about an issue like this.

        And nobody on the left has been "ginning up snipers" with the possible exception of some obscure lunatics nobody can put a name to. This is somewhat unlike the, well, current President who has advocated violence against left wing protestors and even suggested gun owners should take ou

      • How does this crap get modded up in a tech forum?

        There's no insight, no tech content, no explanation - just a childish swipe at the elected president.

        And to top it off, anyone with half a brain or more would immediately recognize that the times cited in the OP were years before Trump, and mostly during Obama... so that the post casts aspersions on Obama more than Trump.

        We're supposed to be the smart people in the room. One side just got done ginning up a sniper to take out the other side - do we really have to stand for this nonsense?

        This forum depends on our participation. Can't we just take back control and refuse to mod up this sort of crap?

        I can explain how this happens.

        We're consuming too much lead.

    • Man, a functioning government sure would be nice right about now...

      Oh, it's functioning, and has been over the entire interval covered by those EPA tests. It just hasn't been doing what you expected it to do. It gathered money from people not willing to part with it voluntarily, and spent it doing things the politicians directed it to do (more or less).

      Getting mad or disappointed or sad because a human creation isn't doing what you expect it to do, when it's clearly not very good at that sort of thing, is just silly.

      You don't get upset when a bicycle doesn't fly. You

  • But how MUCH lead? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @10:00PM (#54637379) Journal

    We've seen this sort of article before:
      - Say a bunch of stuff "tested positive" for BAD THING.
      - Talk about how bad BAD THING is.
      - Talk about where the government sets the (generally very bureaucrat-CYA-low) cutoff of what they consider dangerous (or actionable).
      - But never mention the level of BAD THING detected, or where it lies on the government's scale of "Oh HORRORS!" vs. "Meh. There's a trace of BAD THING everywhere." scale.
      - Foam up a nice head of panic.
      - Sell a lot of papers/eyeball views/whatever if you're a media outlet. Get a bunch more donations for your "good work" to fight poisoning people with BAD THING if you're an advocacy group (as in this case).
      - PROFIT!

    "Tested Positive" says there's enough to detect. As the tests get better the level of detectability gets vanishingly small. This not only gives more opportunities to pull this stunt as time goes on, but it also enables the use of an apples-orange comparison with the less sensitive tests of the past to make up a fake-news item about how "this many decades ago only THIS LOWER PERCENTAGE of things tested for BAD THING tested positive."

    I looked through the whole article for any statement of what level of lead was detected, but didn't find it. Did I miss something? Or was this yet another bogus scare story by an organization with an axe to grind (and/or being removed from the government funding teat and trying to fill in with extra donations).

    • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @10:16PM (#54637435) Homepage

      Maybe you missed the part of the article citing research that showed ANY level of lead was unsafe.

      The whole point being, why does baby food contain *more* lead than adult food?Particularly considering how babies are the most vulnerable to its neurotoxic effects.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Maybe you missed the part of the article citing research that showed ANY level of lead was unsafe.

        That's said because nobody is going to do experiments to find out what the real threshold is.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          > That's said because nobody is going to do experiments to find out what the real threshold is.

          Counterpoints:

          1) We _know_ what maximum safe radiation exposure levels are. We've been able to determine this through both laboratory experiments and field studies.

          2) We used to absolutely _flood_ the environment with lead. Then we switched to burning unleaded gasoline in nearly every ICE. So, we have _huge_ blobs of data about lead exposure in humans... back when we used to regularly and willingly expose human

      • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

        You misread the article. It says no level of lead in the *bloodstream* is unsafe. Just because lead is detected in something does not mean it is bio-available for absorption. Lead paint, for instance, does not absorb easily into the blood stream from the digestive tract. Kids who had high levels of lead in their blood from old houses with lead paint were getting most of it from breathing in paint dust, not eating it as many believe.

        The OP is correct - the level makes a huge difference. If it's very low, lik

        • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

          Make that - no level of lead in the bloodstream is considered *safe*

        • Re:Levels (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Saturday June 17, 2017 @01:18AM (#54637899) Homepage

          If you'd read the rest of the article, you'd see that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels in drinking water be kept below 1 part per billion - a thousandth of the amount you're talking about, even with imperfect absorption. And if you followed up the article's sources, you'd see data showing that e.g. Walgreen's 100% Grape Juice was found to contain around 15 ppb. FDA levels for e.g. grape juice are currently 50 ppb, so it can legally contain far more than the AAP considers wise, which is why the article noted that the FDA is currently reviewing its 20 yo standards to account for more recent research.

          But again, that's not the actual point of the article. To repeat; if we can keep lead below detectable levels in most adult foods, why are we not doing at least as much for the baby versions of those same foods?

      • Maybe you missed the part of the article citing research that showed ANY level of lead was unsafe.

        Which is irrelevant because lead is a naturally occurring substance present everywhere in the environment. You literally cannot go anywhere or do anything which does not expose you to lead. So it's pointless trying to avoid exposure to "ANY level of lead."

        It's the higher concentrations of lead which you have to worry about. So OP is correct that without knowing how much lead was found, it's pointless.

        The

        • it's pointless trying to avoid exposure to "ANY level of lead."

          Sure, but we can keep exposure down to undetectable levels - as we manage to do pretty well with adult foods. Again, not so much for baby foods.

          It's the higher concentrations of lead which you have to worry about. So OP is correct that without knowing how much lead was found, it's pointless.

          So why not read the source report [edf.org] that the article cites? The actual numbers are all right there (I quoted some in a different comment). But the overall conclusion, that there is more lead found in baby food, still leads to the not-at-all-pointless question of "Why?"

          Just as a guess, I'd say because baby food is finely minced into a gruel, any contamination is spread throughout the product instead of just sitting on the surface where it can be easily washed off

          Your guess doesn't explain why simple drinks like apple juice are more than twice as likely to contai

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The whole point being, why does baby food contain *more* lead than adult food?

        That settles it. I'm raising my kid on scotch and beef jerky.

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Maybe you missed the part of the article citing research that showed ANY level of lead was unsafe.

        Personally, I find that an epistemologically dubious characterization of the evidence.

        A better characterization would be: no safe upper limit on safe exposure can be established at present, other than zero.

        That's a natural consequence our initial safe dosage estimate previously set being much too high. When you're hunting for the precise dividing line, you start near where you think it is. If you think it's about 10 micrograms/dL is close to right, you look at 8 micrograms or 5 micrograms, no 500 picogram

    • by ScienceBard ( 4995157 ) on Saturday June 17, 2017 @08:03AM (#54638535)

      Yeah the referenced article at a glance gave a detection rate, not a level for most of the claims. As someone that deals with minimal detectable concentrations for a living, it looks like they were dancing right at their detection limit. Which is fine, as long as you don't misconstrue what those numbers mean.

      It does read very much like an advocacy piece though, particularly where it goes on to criticize the government for regulating concentrations based on what is achievable versus what is the minimum absolute safe quantity. Basically up in arms that there isn't a total ban on lead in food. Which shows a pretty startling lack of understanding of the biosphere and why regulations are structured that way.

      First, I'll preface with this: my lab mostly monitors for radioisotopes like cesium, but the game is pretty much the same. Certain plants preferentially scavenge heavy metals; its a sort of natural confusion in their biochemistry. They're looking for things they need to grow, like iron. They really aren't that selective, because most of the heavy stuff in the soil will be things they need to grow, so there isn't really active filtration of "bad stuff" from a human perspective. The plant doesn't care. As a rule of thumb, anything that sets down large deep roots is a good candidate for this (root vegetables, trees, etc.). Grasses tend not to, although it varies a lot based on the type of grass. Water based plants are another exception (like rice), as heavy metals tend to wash into water basins and settle into silt.

      Where I see this manifest most is oak trees in my line of work. There are large oak forests on the eastern seaboard of the US that had decent quantities of radio cesium dropped on them from weapons testing. The oak trees suck that metal into their leaves like a sponge, then at the end of the year the leaves fall off and rot into the topsoil, and the metal is captured again the next year. It never settles out and gets buried due to this re-suspension, and so oak leaves are some of the most radioactive things you'll find in the USA (depending on where you live).

      In this food study, you're seeing a lot of that. Root vegetables aren't going to be just high in lead, they'll be full of all kinds of stuff. The fruit is going to vary by type, but they'll all have some as well. Purely non-rice grains should have comparatively little, due to shallow root structures among other things (the metal naturally will work its way down out of the topsoil in many cases, so the shallower you set your root the less of it you'll see from a plant perspective). It will also vary based on the year: plants set deeper more extensive root systems based on temperature and rainfall, so the same species in a cool drought year might have a radically different concentration of metals from the same species in the same location in a wet warm year.

      Anyway, the reality is we pumped large quantities of this shit into our environment for decades. Lead mostly from gas, other metals from chemical refining, etc. Lead is the big one, as it was so ubiquitous. There really is no escaping it, and that's why the regulatory limits are set as they are. You can't expect there to be non of it, and it's extraordinarily difficult and fickle to try and control given how incredibly variable the factors can be. Take wheat. You can't test every truckload of wheat for metal content, it isn't feasible given the analyses and timescales involved. When you test off a wheat barge going to a cereal plant, you're looking at an aggregate sample from an entire region. Some fields in that region may have little to no metals, some may have a ton, and in reality most probably have trace amounts. You can't filter the metals out, the product you would have left wouldn't be food in the classical sense. So... you live with it. You set a limit you think can be achieved on average, and test out the back end (the food product itself). The food producer can test the raw ingredients themselves for protection, can try to structur

      • Well, anytime I read about abnormal amounts of reported lead in any food, it tends to follow types of food that's acidic. Meaning, the lead is coming from someplace in the manufacturing process based on the materials that handle them. At least, that's my take on it.

      • Thanks for your input on this topic it's good to hear from someone that has the expertise (presumably as I don't actually know you :-)). What is your opinion on organic foods and whether this may impact the levels of pollutants in food? Is it negligible impact and there still are many toxic chemicals in organics? I'm just wondering if you have any knowledge on this. Thanks!
  • Where does the lead comes from?
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday June 16, 2017 @11:17PM (#54637633) Homepage Journal

      Where does the lead comes from?

      Probably in equipment used for processing. Baby food is more highly processed than most other kinds of food, and wet food is most likely to interact with the machinery. Lead is commonly added to alloys to make them easier to machine. That's why cut glass is typically leaded, as well; it's easier to cut without breaking.

  • Good thing they had the word "alarming" right there! I was leaning toward "fantastic", myself. Cut the bullshit, guys.
  • Hahahaha, I've been saying it all along. USA really is going the way of ancient Rome. Putting lead in everything until everyone goes crazy and starts killing each other. Motherfucking dumbasses on a completely epic scale. Ha!
  • ..is lego, snot and glow in the dark sweets.

  • We find more things that contain lead.

  • Is there a correlation with country of origin? Is the manufacture of baby food one of the things we've outsourced to China, for instance?

  • Now that lead-poisoned generation can be again easily manipulated at election times again!
    Sounds like a R plan to me! ;-)

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