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Bipartisan lawmakers demand FDA briefing on applesauce pouch lead contamination

Bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee want a briefing from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to explain the possible intentional contamination of applesauce pouches.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, lawmakers requested an “immediate” briefing on lead and chromium contamination of applesauce pouches, focusing on the investigation and measures for future prevention — particularly why the agency’s investigators believe contamination was intentional and the limits of the FDA’s authority.

In November, the FDA announced that WanaBana USA had voluntarily recalled three applesauce brands because of reports of elevated levels of lead. But the lead poisoning was only discovered because routine blood screenings of children in Noth Carolina showed spikes in blood lead levels.

The contamination was linked to cinnamon in applesauce pouches that were produced in Ecuador and sold in U.S. supermarkets, on Amazon and in stores like Dollar Tree. But because of limits of the FDA’s authority regarding foreign-made products, the agency was unable to investigate further than the cinnamon supplier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) most recently reported a total of 321 cases from 38 different states, though that number is likely an undercount. As of Tuesday, the FDA has received 89 confirmed complaints of adverse events potentially linked to the product.

Lead is a neurotoxin, and there’s scientific consensus that there’s no safe level of lead in humans, especially in young children.

“Though the FDA has in the past elevated concerns about unacceptably high levels of lead in some baby food, recent events raise whether more can be done to prevent and detect illicit food contamination,” the lawmakers wrote, asking for the briefing no later than Feb. 2.

“It is crucial to understand the FDA’s strategies for detecting and addressing intentional contamination in the food supply chain given the limited authority your agency has over contaminated cinnamon from abroad, which was identified as the potential source of this issue,” the lawmakers wrote, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

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