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Consumer Reports, Industry Square Off Over Metals in Juice

The fruit juice industry hit back at Consumer Reports, the product testing and ratings publication, following its report on Wednesday that many well-known juice products contain enough arsenic, lead, and cadmium that they should be avoided.

Consumer Reports said 21 of 45 juice products it tested had “concerning” levels of at least one of these heavy metals. One such product, Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice, exceeded 15 parts per billion (ppb) for arsenic — well above a proposed, though not yet official, federal standard of 10 ppb. Two Welch’s products contained lead at more than 5 ppb.

However, the report did not disclose the specific concentrations found for most of the products, nor did it explain what constituted “concerning” levels. In a statement released Thursday, the Juice Products Association seized on those omissions to accuse Consumer Reports of “raising unnecessary alarm.” The publication’s classification of some products as being “potentially harmful” was “without any scientific basis,” the industry group said.

“There is no scientific evidence indicating that the presence of trace levels of heavy metals in juice has caused any negative health outcomes among individuals at any life stage,” the group declared, although it acknowledged that “trace, harmless levels of these substances may exist in juice, and other foods.”

The group cited the FDA’s Total Diet Study to support its assertion that these “trace” levels are harmless. However, that effort merely tests foods for concentrations of various contaminants without determining whether they are unhealthy.

News reports about the dispute pointed out that toxicologists generally accept that no threshold for harm has been established for heavy metals in foods, especially for children. NPR, for example, spoke with an American Academy of Pediatrics committee member, Aparna Bole, MD, of Cleveland’s University Hospitals, who took Consumer Reports’ side: “We know there are no safe levels of exposure to these heavy metals.”

And the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences told NPR that lead may be harmful at levels below 1 ppb.


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