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New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone wants the Food and Drug Administration to test baby food products before they show up in the supermarket. So, he is sponsoring legislation that would make the FDA regulate the baby food industry.
Under the Improving Newborns’ Food and Nutrition Testing Safety Act, known as INFANTS, manufacturers have to conduct sampling for heavy metal contaminants on a regular basis. If enacted into law, the proposal would mandate baby food companies prepare a written plan for sampling and testing, and ensure the plan is carried out. It would also require them to maintain records of sampling and testing and allow those records to be inspected and copied by FDA. Manufacturers of powdered infant formula would also be required to establish and implement a monitoring program to verify the effectiveness of sanitation and hygiene controls where food has the potential to be exposed to bacteria.
“If they don’t follow the requirements then they wouldn’t be able to sell the product, and … the manufacturers would have to notify the FDA within 24 hours if their product fails the test, so to speak,” Pallone said.
Pallone is the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over FDA and baby food products. He said a similar type of requirement would also be imposed on companies that produce infant formula.
Pallone said most people don’t realize federal mandates to inspect baby foods are limited.
Dr. Jonathan Teitelbaum, the medical director of pediatric gastroenterology at RWJ Barnabas Health, said the proposed legislation is a no-brainer.
“Oversight by the FDA would help to ensure both quality, and also to quickly develop a plan to try to deal with whatever difficulties come up if you need to recall a product,” he said. “We know that particularly in the developing brain that these can be very injurious to young children and their brain development.”
Teitelbaum said for every few points of lead in the bloodstream above certain levels, children can experience significant developmental delays or a decrease in IQ points.
Dr. Barry Kessler, an AtlantiCare pediatrician at the federally qualified health center in Atlantic City, agreed the INFANTS Act would be very beneficial.
“If we can add other things they can test for, that we can keep out of the environment of these children, I am all for that,” he said.
Hannah Korn-Heilner, a policy associate with Advocates for Children of New Jersey, believes the INFANTS Act is extremely important.
“The experiences that young children have, the kinds of foods that they’re eating, their formula, that all has an impact on their development,” she said.
Two years ago, when Abbott Labs was ordered to recall their infant formula, there was a huge shortage and President Joe Biden had to order additional manufacturing of the product and airlift powdered infant formula into the U.S. from foreign countries.
Korn-Heilner said during that time, many New Jersey families were struggling to find options.
“When families are stressed, when families are burdened, it limits their time and capacity to be able to support their child’s development in other aspects,” she said.
Pallone said whenever there is a shortage of a particular brand or type of formula, it’s not always easy to find a substitute. He said when the INFANTS Act is passed, it will make it easier for the FDA to have a mandatory recall.
“It addresses the shortage problem by finding out about these problems in advance. So it doesn’t become a shortage because everything is removed, taken off the market at the last minute and then everybody has to scrounge around,” he said.
Pallone said in another incident, a baby applesauce product from Ecuador was found to be contaminated with lead, and at the end of 2023 the FDA ordered a recall of Nutramigen powdered infant formula
Korn-Heilner said ensuring baby food and baby formula is safe is absolutely essential.
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