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Exploding Head: Juice With Lead

June 17, 2010

A few days ago regular commenter Erin Lenseth brought something rather alarming to my attention over at the FLB Facebook page.

Lead has been found in grape and apple juice at concentrations to warrant the mandatory labeling, “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  It was also found in packaged pears, peaches and fruit cocktail.

The story, which includes mention of the group spearheading the effort, the EPA-certified lab that ran the tests, and all the legal mumbo jumbo, can be found at the NPR website, along with links to the full list of brands involved.

Over the past several months, I have been banging the drum over the shenanigans with our food supply.  I thought the dirty little secret of the natural foods industry was bad.  But I never suspected organic juices (along with their non-organic counterparts) to be contaminated with lead.

Now that I have read about the situation, it doesn’t seem like it’s a new phenomenon.

This post from a couple of years ago discusses the presence of lead in balsamic vinegar.  The fact that not all products that are manufactured in similar ways or that are produced from similar ingredients contain lead suggests it is avoidable.  But there is still uncertainty about exactly how this chemical has entered the foods in question.

According to the lead FAQ from the Environmental Law Foundation:
– Three sources of lead continue to contaminate the environment and food supply:  decades of pesticide application, leaded gasoline, and airborne lead from coal-fired power plants.
– Exposure to small amounts of lead can be harmful.  The body stores lead in bones, and small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems.
– The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that there is no “safe level” of lead for children.

It’s alarming.

Especially since I’ve just recently starting giving more juice to Little Miss Fussy, and I have open bottles of Welch’s and Santa Cruz Organics in the refrigerator.  Both brands were found to contain levels of lead that exceeded California’s limits.

So I decided to contact Welch’s.  I wanted to hear what they had to say.  That led me to their site where I sent them my concerns via a handy dandy form.  And I waited for an email response.

Here is the entirety of what they said:

Thank you for contacting Welch’s.  We appreciate your comments and questions regarding Welch’s Grape Juices.

It is important for our company to receive comments from our consumers, and you can be assured yours will be shared with the appropriate individuals in our organization.

Please watch your mail for a letter from Welch’s.  We can assure you all of Welch’s products are safe to use and are with all FDA standards and requirements.

I was underwhelmed.  And it inspired me to write them this follow up letter:

How can you say all of your products are safe to use when recent tests have revealed some of them contain 0.5 micrograms or more of lead per serving?  How does lead even get into juice in the first place?

I have a giant bottle of your juice sitting open in my refrigerator right now that I do not feel comfortable giving to my kids.

Regretfully, your assurances do little to quell my concerns.

But rest assured, I will be watching my mail for a letter from Welch’s.  And in the meantime, I’m going to help spread the word about the lab’s report.  Because despite the story being broadcast on NPR over a week ago, there are still a ton of people who haven’t heard about it yet.

Maybe next time, Welch’s PR will not drag its feet when responding to a crisis of the public’s trust in their products.  Although they shouldn’t be singled out.  Two other food giants, Dole and Del Monte are being oddly quiet about this too.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen Whitby permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:34 pm

    Here are a couple of miscellaneous thoughts.

    1. Really? Why are you surprised? Why, after learning about and revealing all the other things about the non-food in food, does it shock you to learn about one more thing in the food that we eat? At this point, it feels naive to believe that food manufacturers prioritize the consumer’s best interest over the bottom line. If it’s expensive to keep or get the lead out, why would they bother? After all, it’s been in there all along and most people are okay, right? I am bothered too. Disgusted even. I don’t trust the food industry, which makes food shopping much more difficult.

    2. Regarding the wishy-washy non-answer you received from Welch’s, I have yet to hear back from the Capital District Community Gardens about the toxic pesticides that were sprayed near my plot in Ridgefield Gardens in Albany. Sure, they didn’t know it was a banned substance and they have probably been spraying it there for the last 11 years anyway (the ban was implemented on paper, at least, in 1999) so why should they think that the vegetables I’m growing there would be any worse off than last year’s. Still, I was expecting some kind of a response. Something more than the nothing I’ve gotten (which is less than you’ve gotten from Welch’s).

    It sucks. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to be oblivious.

  2. Erin Lenseth permalink
    June 18, 2010 1:42 pm

    Thanks for reposting this. I think it’s important that the word get out; I’m deeply unsettled by the fact that so many companies that are considered to be fairly reputable in terms of healthy products for children would expose their primary consumers to this. Ever since the banning of lead paint in 1977 people have been more widely aware of the effects of lead, particularly on those with developing minds and bodies; how disgusting is it that juice companies have subjected our youth to this toxic substance?

    And to Ellen: while it is naive, I do believe that companies have a responsibility and a duty to their consumers to make them aware of exactly WHAT they are being subjected to when using the companies products; certainly, it is to the point of where this became so neglected that the FDA had to regulate such things, but we as consumers also need to continually demand better by boycotting products that subject us to such risks as this one. They only feel it when it hits their bottom line, IMO. And being oblivious would be nice in an ideal world- I understand why you say that, it’s frustrating to have to scrutinize each and every thing purchased for potential undesirable effects or ingredients, but to be aware, en masse, will mean progress towards good products in the long run.

  3. February 15, 2011 12:56 pm

    I just wondered if you ever got a response back from Welchs about the lead in their juice?

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