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Is Your Thanksgiving Stuffing Contaminated With Toxic Lead?

November 24, 2021
New York, NY

Pure Earth, an international non-profit organization focused on fighting disease-causing pollution, responds to alarming study from Consumer Reports, “Your Herbs and Spices Might Contain Arsenic, Cadmium, and Lead.” The study is the latest in a growing list of publications revealing that toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury are being detected in all types of foods in U.S. grocery stores. The focus of this report is on imported contaminated spices, with thyme, an essential flavor in Thanksgiving stuffing, of particular concern. 

As Pure Earth detailed in “Pollution Know No Borders: How the pollution crisis in low- and middle-income countries affects everyone’s health, and what we can do about it,” in 2019, pollution moves from countries lacking substantive pollution controls to the rest of the world. The global industrial pollution crisis in low-income countries directly impacts our daily lives in high-income countries. 

“It’s great that the Biden administration is increasing investment to prevent lead exposure domestically, but we won’t completely solve this problem until we prevent pollution at the source coming from countries with little pollution management infrastructure,says Richard Fuller, CEO of Pure Earth. “The fact that H.R. 2229, the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021—designed to protect infants from heavy metal contamination in popular brands of baby food—is stalled in Congress is baffling. The toxic lead found in baby food is getting to our homes the same way it is in spices.” 

Toxins From The Global Farm To Your Table

Several studies have documented the increase in use of untreated industrial wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals for crop irrigation by farmers lacking access to clean water. Farmers in countries like China and India contend with climate-related water stress and rapid growth of polluting factories around their fields, leaving them no choice but to use toxic water. Constant exposure to this water sickens farmers and their families. The poisoned water permanently contaminates the soil, gets absorbed by the plants, and makes its way into global food markets, exposing consumers around the world. (infographic)

The Lead Connection

Pure Earth and UNICEF alerted the world that 800 million children globally have elevated lead levels, and concluded a major source of this poisoning is the informal, open air recycling of lead-acid car batteries across Asia, Africa, and South America. Millions of these small operators smelt lead in communities, close to agricultural fields or large produce markets, injecting lead in the global food production chain at countless points.

Is it possible for any multinational food conglomerate to control all the sources and possible contamination pathways? We know it is not possible to check and test all imports at our borders.

The Solution: Public/Private Partnerships to Solve Pollution at the Source

The good news for our holiday tables is that solutions are at hand now. The same investments the US and other wealthy countries started making in pollution control in the 1970’s now need to be applied in low and middle-income countries.

Right now, the international community spends a tiny amount on pollution control. That needs to change, and corporations have a major role to play in this shift in priorities and resources as part of their environmental sustainability efforts. 

This can seem overwhelming but truly, it’s just a matter of focusing resources. Do we have a choice? Should consumers have to continue to tolerate baby food, spices, supplements & protein powders, chocolates, frozen foods, fish, rice, and high-priced organic products all contaminated with toxic lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and more?

“When it comes to pollution, we are all connected,” Fuller adds. “There is an invisible toxic thread that links workers being poisoned in poorer countries while growing crops or producing products, and all of us who are exposed to poisons while consuming these products.”

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About Pure Earth –

Pure Earth is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and improving lives and protecting the planet by reducing disease-causing pollution in low- and middle-income countries. Pure Earth prioritizes actions that protect the developing brains and bodies of children and pregnant women living in toxic hot spots with a specific emphasis on lead and mercury exposure. Partnering with governments, communities, and industry leaders, Pure Earth aims to elevate pollution as a global priority, create sustainable change, and support a healthier future.