June 16, 2021

U.S. House Report Finds Baby Foods Tainted with Heavy Metals

A U.S. House subcommittee report finds that baby foods tainted with heavy metals are being sold to unsuspecting consumers. The report was issued on February 4, 2021 by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy and the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The report states that companies were asked to provide information about internal testing on their products. Four complied. But Walmart, which sells Parent’s Choice baby food; Sprout Organic Foods; and Campbell, which sells Plum Organics, refused to cooperate with the subcommittees’ investigation. They did not provide testing results or standards.

U.S. House Report Finds Baby Foods Tainted with Heavy Metals

The report states that representatives have “grave concerns” about baby foods manufactured by those three companies that would not cooperate, stating “The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products.”

According to internal company documents and test results that the subcommittee obtained, commercial baby foods “are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.”

Arsenic was present in baby foods made by all responding companies. Nurture (HappyBABY) sold baby food after tests revealed they contained as much as 180 parts per billion (PPB) inorganic arsenic. Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) sold baby foods containing as much as 129 pub inorganic arsenic. Beech-Nut used ingredients after they tested as high as 913.4 ppb arsenic. And Gerber used high-arsenic ingredients, using 67 batches of rice flour that had tested over 90 ppb inorganic arsenic.

Inorganic arsenic is the dangerous type. It is classified as a carcinogen. The FDA has issued a guidance document, which does not have the force of law, stating that the action level for inorganic arsenic in baby food should be 100 ppb. The limit of inorganic arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb.

Lead was also present in baby foods made by all of the responding companies. Nurture products had as much as 641 ppb of lead. Beech-Nut used ingredients containing as much as 886.9 ppb lead. Hain used ingredients containing as much as 352 ppb lead. And Gerber used ingredients that tested as high as 48 ppb lead.

Lead is also a carcinogen and is especially dangerous to children, since it harms the nervous system and the brain. Lead consumption can lower IQ levels and can cause learning disabilities. The FDA has set a level of 50 ppb as the maximum allowable in juice and 5 ppb in bottled water.

Cadmium and mercury were also present in the baby foods at high levels. Nurture sold all products tested, regardless of how much toxic heavy metal the baby food contained. Beech-Nut set internal arsenic and cadmium standards at 3,000 ppb in additives, and 5,000 ppb lead for certain ingredients. Hain set an internal standard of 200 ppb for arsenic, lead, and cadmium in some of its ingredients, but still exceeded its internal policies. And Hain admitted to the FDA that its testing underestimated final product toxic heavy metal levels.

The repot states that the subcommittee recommends that baby food manufacturers should be required by the FDA to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals, not just their ingredients. They should also be required to label the levels of toxic heavy metals in their foods. There are no warnings or labels on these products indicating heavy metal levels. And there should be a voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients and the companies should find substitutes.

In addition, the FDA should set standards of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods. One level should apply across all baby foods. The subcommittee also recommended that parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients that test high for heavy metals, such as rice products.

Food safety advocates and agencies have been concerned about this issue for some time. Consumers Union issued a report in 2018 stating the issues with heavy metals in baby food. In 2017 a new study found arsenic in infant rice cereal. And in 2012, a bill was introduced in Congress to limit the levels of arsenic in rice.

 

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