FDA Takes Action to Limit Lead Levels in Juice

The limits do not go far enough to protect kids, advocates say

Child drinking apple juice Photo: Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration today announced a draft plan that would lower the guidance level for lead in fruit juices from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for other fruit juices.

The move is part of the Agency’s Closer to Zero action plan, announced last year, which is meant to lower the levels of toxic heavy metals that children are exposed to through baby food and juice. Research, including tests done by Consumer Reports, has shown that fruit juice—especially apple and grape—can contain worrisome levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. CR and other health and consumer groups have been pushing the FDA to set limits, but advocates say these levels do not go nearly far enough.

“These proposed levels seem weak, especially when you consider a significant majority of the industry is already meeting them,” says Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “These action levels seem to give credit for work already done instead of attempting to protect public health.”

More on Heavy Metals

Other advocates agree. “They should be setting tighter standards,” says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund. “This is closer to zero, but it is only a baby step closer to protecting babies.”

CR tests from a few years ago show that it is possible for manufacturers to sharply reduce the lead in their products. More than half the juice products we tested had levels of 1 ppb or less. Only two juices had average lead levels higher than 5 ppb.

Depending on how long children are exposed to heavy metals and how much they are exposed to, they may be at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), type 2 diabetes, and cancer, among other health issues. Though the risks of heavy metals from any one source may be low, when people are exposed to even small amounts from multiple sources, over time the danger multiplies.

The best way to reduce your child’s exposure to heavy metals in fruit juice is to limit how much fruit juice they drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended limiting the amount of juice children consume because it is high in sugar, and not giving it to children at all before they turn 1.

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