USDA Assisting FDA in Lowering Heavy Metals

Feb. 4, 2022
The Agriculture Dept. explains its work in Closer to Zero initiative.

The USDA provided a brief update in late January on the primarily FDA initiative to reduce heavy metals in foods; it's called the Closer to Zero (C2Z) initiative.

USDA is collaborating with FDA in the sense that "The [USDA's] Agricultural Research Service studies every facet of how plants uptake heavy metals from the soil so that we can find ways to mitigate heavy metals in foods to the greatest extent possible," according to a statement from Pamela Starke-Reed, deputy administrator of ARS, and Melanie Abley, senior advisor in the Office of the Chief Scientist in Research and Science.

The revelation that there are heavy metals, particularly arsenic, in some foods, particularly baby foods, blew up last summer in Congress and among states' attorneys-general. FDA is expected to provide a preliminary report this April, with phased-in limits coming in following years.

Some bullet points from the January USDA statement:

  • The National Institute for Food and Agriculture's vast partner and stakeholder network plans to collaborate in developing and sharing targeted communications on how pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and young children can reduce their exposure to toxic elements in foods.
  • Its investments in agricultural research, education, and extension will help develop data-driven approaches to reduce toxic elements in the food production system.
  • The Food Safety and Inspection Service will provide essential oversight for assessing metal contamination in foods. FSIS serves as a critical link in notifying appropriate USDA and FDA offices if elevated levels of a concerning substance are detected in food.

"The Closer to Zero initiative provides a crucial framework for the work that must be done to reduce heavy metal content in foods, but particularly in foods consumed by infants and children, our most vulnerable group," they concluded.

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