On June 9, 2010 the Environmental Law Foundation, a nonprofit based in the Bay Area, filed Notices of Violation of California Proposition 65 Toxics Right to Know law, alleging that lead, a highly toxic chemical for children, was found in a variety of foods and drinks for children and babies (pdf).
The specific food categories included apple juice, grape juice, packaged pears and peaches (including baby food), and fruit cocktail. ELF purchased dozens of brands of juices and fruit products around California and sent them to an EPA-certified lab in Berkeley and testing results showed that many individual servings of apple juice, grape juice, packaged peaches and pears and fruit cocktail contained lead above the federal daily limit established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for young kids.
Many of the brands tested were popular organics. Plenty of products that were not organic were also found to contain unsafe levels of lead, but since I promote organics here, I’m just going to list the organic brands you may need to be concerned about…
- 365 Everyday Value Organic 100% Juice Concord Grapes
- Earth’s Best Organics Apple Juice
- Full Circle Organic Apple Juice
- O Organics Organic Grape Juice from concentrate
- O Organics Organic Unfiltered Apple Juice Not From Concentrate
- R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Concord
- Santa Cruz Organic Concord Grape Juice
- Trader Joe’s Certified Organic Apple Juice, pasteurized
- Trader Joe’s Concord Grape Juice made from fresh pressed organic concord grapes
The results were based on testing performed on 398 samples of 146 different branded products in the five categories noted above (apple juice, grape juice, packaged peaches and pears and fruit cocktail). For a full list of all companies and products involved see the ELF notice letter (pdf).
Why is lead in these products?
According to ELF and other sources, lead has been released into the environment for years from decades of lead-based pesticide application, use of leaded gasoline and lead paint, and burning of coal in power plants. The lead in the environment then can make its way into the food supply. However, ELF notes that not every food category does contain lead; even with the environmental leeching aspects at play.
For about 20 years ELF has fought for consumer protection from lead exposures in faucets and plumbing fixtures, drinking water, rental housing, playgrounds and most recently in the food supply. Through enforcing the law, ELF has learned two things: 1) when pressed to do so, companies can almost always reduce or eliminate lead from their products, and 2) because lead poses such a threat to public health, particularly children, we all have an obligation to reduce exposures wherever we can. ELF believes that the lead legacy in the food supply is fundamentally the result of shortsighted public health, energy, and food-safety policies.
David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that tracks food safety issues reviewed this issue over at NPR and told the news channel, “If you look at the apple juice as if there are some manufacturers who managed to avoid the lead entirely. And it would be interesting to find out how they’re managing to do that. Are they choosing different fruits, fruits from different farmers who have avoided lead contamination of their products? Or do their manufacturing processes, are they of such a kind that they avoid adding lead to the food that they’re processing?”
How dangerious is lead?
The FDA set the current federal limits for lead nearly two decades ago – which is appalling.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to parents that there is no safe level of exposure to lead when it comes to children.
OSHA notes that lead exposure adversely affects numerous body systems and causes forms of health impairment and disease that arise after periods of exposure as short as days (acute exposure) or as long as several years (chronic exposure). Symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, constipation, difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, moodiness, headache, joint or muscle aches, anemia, and decreased sexual drive. Long term (chronic) overexposure to lead may result in severe damage to the blood-forming, nervous, urinary, and reproductive systems.
The EPA has a long list of lead related health problems that are connected directly to babies and young children.
What the companies say:
I looked around and most companies accused of excess lead aren’t saying anything yet, although the NPR piece points to some companies saying they don’t have enough info or that they’ll be running some tests. I didn’t expect companies like Safeway to comment on their O Organics but did expect to see something about the issue up at Santa Cruz, who in spite of being owned by a major corporation (J. M. Smucker Company), I’ve been a fan of (my son loves their juice). I also expected to see something about this at Trader Joe’s and Earth’s Best – but no.
It’ll be interesting to see what companies will say and do with regards to this. Seriously, I’m getting to the point where I’m thinking we can’t trust anyone anymore to tell consumers what’s up. It’s like no one cares what toxins and chemicals are affecting our families. It’s so frustrating.