Guest authored by Jackie Bowen (Executive Director, Clean Label Project)
Over the past several years, the food industry has been plagued with headlines like “Levels of heavy metals in top selling baby foods,” “Levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-Up with known links to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in best-selling breakfast cereals,” and “BPA/BPS, plasticizers with known links to endocrine disruption, leaching from product packaging into finished products.” The unfortunate reality is that the food safety regulatory fabric in America is largely focused on pathogen and microbiological contaminants. Things like e.coli, salmonella, and Listeria which can contribute to vomiting, diarrhea, or worse within 24-72 hours. But consumers are increasingly concerned about the food they eat and the consumer products they use are linked to long-term chronic disease, things like cancer and infertility.
Enter Clean Label Project. Clean Label Project is a national non-profit within the mission to bring truth and transparency to food and consumer product labeling. As a standards development organization, Clean Label Project aims to bring forward a consumer standard for food and consumer product labeling focusing on emerging issues that consumers care about most that are largely outside the scope of federal regulation. Through data, science, and benchmarking, Clean Label Project uses retail sampling and testing to benchmark product quality and purity of North America's best-selling food and consumer products and award Clean Label Project's coveted certifications.
The scope of Clean Label Project’s certifications is focused on industrial and environmental contaminants. Pesticide residues and plasticizers (including phthalates, BPA and BPS) are just few contaminants under evaluation. However, when it comes to vulnerable populations like pregnant women, infants and children, heavy metals (like Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury), are not just an area of attention for Clean Label Project, but also a national advocacy and regulatory focus.
While heavy metals are naturally occurring in the earth’s crust, the reality is that human causes can also contribute to the problem. Things like mining, fracking, industrial agriculture, and the use of wastewater for irrigation can contaminate soil and water in the form of pollution. Just as plants absorb water and important vitamins and minerals from the ground, they can also absorb heavy metals. In the absence of federal laws requiring brands to test, these contaminants can enter products through contaminated ingredients. It is only through strict supplier assurance programs and by embracing a corporate philosophy to voluntarily choose to go above and beyond minimum federal food safety requirements that we can minimize the introductions of these contaminants into the food supply, especially those which are destined for products marketed towards pregnant women, infants, and children.
When it comes to regulations, the good news is that change is underway. Proposed bills like the Baby Food Safety Act and FDA’s new Closer To Zero program as poised to disrupt the status quo, but both are a ways off from formal adoption. Europe has had their “Contaminants in Foodstuffs” regulations for decades which place even stricter food safety requirements on food marketed towards vulnerable populations. In the United States, California Proposition 65 is arguably the strictest law in the land when comes to industrial and environmental contaminants, but it is just a state requirement, not a federal one.
When it comes to complying with federal regulations, that’s table stakes- the minimum that a brand needs to do to legally sell products in the United States. Food the sake of my family and yours, support brands that share in the Clean Label Project mission to change the definition of food and consumer product safety in America.