Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in the soil, water, and air. It is also a toxic substance that can affect brain and kidney function and pregnancy outcomes. Robust international food safety standards help all nations to reduce toxic lead exposure. In 2021, the U.S. Codex Office (USCO) worked with the international food standards setting body (Codex Alimentarius) to develop science-based food standards. One area they focused on was reducing lead contamination in food.
Through the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF), the United States led a collaborative effort that involved several Codex member countries. This collaboration led to the revision of the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Lead Contamination in Foods (CXC 56-2004) (PDF, 135 KB), which provides science-based information to producers, governments, and industry on how to best prevent and further reduce lead contamination in food. This was the first revision since 2004.
Additionally, the USCO supported work, led by the United States, that resulted in lowering Maximum Levels (MLs) for lead in several commodities, such as fruit juices, infant formula, canned fruits and vegetables, and other products. Maximum Levels ensure that food does not contain contaminants (such as lead) at levels that could potentially harm human health. MLs are essential to controlling and monitoring contamination of substances that could make food unsafe. The United States is also actively involved in ongoing work to develop MLs for additional foods such as dried spices and culinary herbs, eggs, sugars and sugar-based candies, cereal-based products and ready-to-eat meals for infants and young children. In this instance, the USCO was able to draw on the expertise of U.S. scientific and regulatory agencies to assist and provide information and advice to countries in setting MLs for lead which will strengthen global compliance and cooperation.
The result of our work means American consumers, and consumers worldwide, can have greater confidence in the safety of trusted products traded and imported worldwide. This is one example of the critical role that the U.S. Codex Program plays in ensuring the health of consumers.
The U.S. Codex Office, housed in USDA’s Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, leads the planning, policy development, support, and coordination for U.S. involvement in Codex, ensuring fair food trade practices and the harmonization of food standards worldwide.