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Arsenic, mercury levels in baby food below limit, says regulator

By Ahmed ElAmin, 09-May-2007

Related topics: Industry news

Baby food processors are breathing easier today after the UK industry regulator released a study showing that levels of arsenic and mercury in their products are below legal limits.


The Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey of arsenic and mercury levels follows one last year of 15 metals and other elements in a wide range of commercial weaning foods for infants.



The new study focuses on inorganic arsenic, methyl mercury and different types of chromium.



The study showed that levels of total arsenic and mercury in weaning products were similar to those measured in a 2006 survey and were, in all cases, within the legal limits, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) stated.



The FSA said levels of the different types of chromium were not measured, although investigators had intended to sample for the metal as part of the study.



The testing method did not work for all the types of samples investigated, the FSA stated.



The agency said it will continue to monitor levels of chromium in foods and may consider carrying out further studies on chromium in the future if required.



"The findings confirm that the levels found do not give concern for children's health," the FSA stated.



The surveys were done to assess infants' exposures to metals. Scientists measured the levels ofaluminium, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, tin and zinc in 201 samples of commercial weaning foods and formulae for infants.



Some of the metals are essential nutrients,while others have no known beneficial health effects. All metals may be harmful if eaten in excessive amounts.



Metals and other elements can be present in foods naturally, as a result of pollution, or from the storage or processing of foods, such as when tin migrates from cans into the contained products.



Food processors may also add metals such as iron to their products.



All the samples were checked for compliance against limits laid down in the UK Arsenic in Food Regulations 1959, which sets maximum levels for arsenic, and an EU regulation setting maximum levels for specific contaminants, including cadmium, lead, mercury and tin.



The UK's Processed Cereal-based Foods and Baby Foods for Infants and Young Children (England) Regulations and the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula regulations sets levels for vitamins, minerals and some trace elements such as iron, zinc, copper, iodine and manganese.



The FSA regularly monitors the concentrations of metals and other elements in food. Previous multi-element analysis in the regulator's diet study have also shown that concentrations of metals and other elements in food do not present significant risks to the general UK population.



Consultation on a proposed EU amendment to the bloc's regulation on contaminants ended in August last year. The proposal would widen the scope of limits on heavy metals and mycotoxins in foods, as part of the changes.



The proposed new regulation consolidates and replaces European Commission regulation 466/2001 and its previous amendments.



It would require food processors to take greater care in the sourcing of the ingredients used in their products.