US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin Calls on FDA to Move Quickly to Reduce Contaminants in Fruit Juice

Thursday, December 01, 2011

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging swift action to set limits for total arsenic and lead in fruit juices. A study released yesterday by Consumer Reports showed nearly 25 percent of tested apple juice and grape juice samples exceeded the federal limit for lead in bottled water, and 10 percent exceeded the limit for arsenic in drinking water.  FDA has set limits on permissible amounts of lead and arsenic in bottled water, but has not yet set such thresholds for juice products. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA),which was sponsored by Harkin and signed into law last January, also gave the FDA regulatory new tools to help limit the threat of environmental contaminants like arsenic and lead in food and beverages, but the regulations implementing that Act are still being developed. Harkin is also a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that funds FDA and USDA.

“It is critical that FDA act swiftly to set limits for total arsenic and lead in fruit juice.  I also strongly urge FDA to move quickly to enhance surveillance of the fruit juices imported into the United States and to take appropriate regulatory action to ensure contaminated juice products do not reach American consumers,” Harkin wrote in the letter.

The full text of the letter is below.  A PDF copy is available here.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

I write regarding the safety of fruit juice products.  As you know, I have a long standing interest in food safety. I led a bipartisan effort in Congress to pass the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law last January.  The purpose of that law was to modernize the food safety system in this country and protect consumers from the threat of toxins or other hazards in their food supply.  As FDA drafts regulations implementing the sections of the FSMA related to produce safety standards and preventive controls, I encourage the agency to consider the threat posed to our food supply by environmental contaminants.

A study released yesterday by Consumer Reports documents high levels of arsenic in popular brands of apple and grape juices consumed in the United States.  Of the 88 samples tested, 10 percent contained total arsenic levels that exceed the federal standards for drinking water of 10 parts per billion and nearly 25 percent contained lead levels that exceed FDA’s standard for bottled water of 5 parts per billion.  Most of the arsenic detected in the samples was inorganic arsenic, which is a known human carcinogen.

I am extremely concerned by these study results because fruit juices are a primary source of calories for children in the United States.  As you know, the majority of apple juice concentrate consumed in this country is imported from China, where under-regulated pesticide use and environmental contamination pose a threat to the safety of the food supply.  Consumer Reports also raised concern about the presence of inorganic arsenic in ground water here in the United States.

It is my understanding that FDA has not yet set a limit on permissible levels of total arsenic or lead in fruit juices.  It is critical that FDA act swiftly to set limits for total arsenic and lead in fruit juice.  I also strongly urge FDA to move quickly to enhance surveillance of the fruit juices imported into the United States and to take appropriate regulatory action to ensure contaminated juice products do not reach American consumers.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Tom Harkin, Chairman

Senate HELP Committee

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