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Mind the toxic metals in your food

| Updated on May 11, 2018

A reality about our food supply is that metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and others, are present in certain foods. These elements occur naturally and as environmental pollutants in air, water and soil, and they enter the food supply when plants take them up as they grow.

The Food and Drug Administration actively monitors the levels of these metals because at high levels they can be toxic and present a unique danger to those who are the most vulnerable: our children. The agency is working to reduce the health risks that these elements present and last year established a workgroup of food safety experts to help shape what the FDA will do to protect consumers of all ages from these metals, when present in foods.

Conrad Choiniere, director of the Office of Analytics and Outreach at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, outlines why their work matters.

The workgroup is focusing first on metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in foods, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. “These naturally occurring contaminants are present in many of the foods we eat, but can be especially harmful to children because of concerns about effects on their neurological development. So we’re looking into the presence of these four metals in foods commonly consumed by children. We’re also concerned about the rest of the population, but our initial focus is on those who are the most vulnerable,” he said.

Because these metals occur naturally in the environment, or have infiltrated water, air and soil because of pollution, they’re hard to get rid of or even just minimise. When these contaminants are in soil or water, they are absorbed into plants, which are then eaten by people or by animals that enter the food supply. “This is what we observed with methylmercury, which came from pollutants that got into our water and from there into our seafood supply.” This discussion marked six months’ work by the team.

Source: USFDA

Published on May 11, 2018

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