TUESDAY, Jan. 24, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed stricter limits on levels of lead in infant food products.

The agency announced draft guidance for manufacturers that would lower allowable lead levels in processed foods meant for infants and children 2 years and younger. The change could reduce dietary exposure to lead, which can cause neurological and developmental harm, the FDA said.

The proposed limits could reduce lead exposure for babies who eat these foods by as much as 24 to 27 percent. The move is part of an ongoing push by the FDA to reduce exposure to lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury to the lowest levels possible in foods eaten by babies and young children — a program it calls Closer to Zero.

Tuesday’s proposal would apply to baby foods sold in jars, pouches, tubs, and boxes. Limits would be 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits and vegetables, with the exception of single-ingredient root vegetables. This limit would also apply to grain- and meat-based mixtures, yogurts, custards/puddings, and single-ingredient meats. For single-ingredient root vegetables and dry cereals, the proposed limit would be 20 ppb. The action levels differ because consumption levels of foods differ and because some foods naturally absorb more lead from the environment they are grown in.

The presence of a contaminant does not mean the food is unsafe to eat, the FDA emphasized. The agency evaluates the level of the contaminant in the food and exposure to determine if there is a potential health risk. It is not possible to remove lead and the other contaminants entirely from the food supply, the agency said.

“We expect that the recommended action levels will cause manufacturers to implement agricultural and processing measures to lower lead levels in their food products below the proposed action levels, thus reducing the potential harmful effects associated with dietary lead exposures,” the FDA said in a news release.

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