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Lawmakers push FDA, CDC to act on reports of lead-poisoned cinnamon in applesauce

Rebecca Barnabi
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Reports are on the increase of American children experiencing lead poison from consumption of lead-tainted cinnamon applesauce.

Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan of Virginia led 15 House Democrats in a letter Monday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They called on the FDA to expedite actions to strengthen food heavy metal contamination standards and urged the CDC to ensure families are informed and can access the necessary testing and care.

The Washington Post reported at least 118 suspected or confirmed cases of lead exposure, leading to high blood lead levels in children who had consumed applesauce products containing cinnamon. As of Dec. 11, the FDA has received 65 reports of illness in 27 states linked to these now-recalled products. Children absorb significantly more ingested lead than adults, which can lead to severe adverse health impacts, including vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, seizures, hearing loss, learning difficulties, and developmental delays.

“Families and other consumers trust regulators to ensure that food products meet minimum safety standards. These reports are extremely troubling on their own — especially given the emerging possibility that the cinnamon may have been intentionally contaminated with lead,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, they also shed light on larger issues around the lack of federal standards for lead in most foods, including those consumed by babies and young children, and that product testing is not generally required.”

The lawmakers encouraged the FDA to take a series of actions to protect American consumers, including expediting its efforts on the Closer to Zero Action Plan, an initiative that seeks to reduce exposure to contaminants in foods. They also emphasized the need to consider the cumulative impacts of lead exposure suffered by historically marginalized communities and called on the CDC to ensure that disadvantaged families can access appropriate testing and treatment.

“We also urge FDA to expand its current draft guidance on foods intended for babies and young children to ensure that the applesauce pouches implicated in this situation and other foods consumed by young children are covered,” the lawmakers continued in their letter. “Finally, we ask FDA to release any testing results it has received for products implicated in the current applesauce recall… As more cases are being identified, we want to particularly uplift disadvantaged and vulnerable communities where children may be disproportionately affected. This may be the case as children suffer the cumulative effects of lead exposure from multiple sources such as housing and drinking water in addition to contaminated food products.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Alma Adams, Nanette Barragán, Yadira Caraveo, Kathy Castor, Danny Davis, Don Davis, Derek Kilmer, Seth Magaziner, Betty McCollum, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chris Pappas, Katie Porter, Shri Thanedar, David Trone and Jennifer Wexton.

The letter is endorsed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“This latest outbreak has shown us that our food system is failing kids. We need to be able to trust that the products we pick up in the grocery store will not cause lead poisoning,” said Sarah Sorscher, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “FDA must move faster in setting limits for lead in foods marketed to children, and make sure that those standards cover the kinds of apple sauce products that caused this outbreak.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.