Government Report About Heavy Metals In Baby Foods Causes Widespread Concern

Photo: 2019 YouTube report screengrab

A government report released last week raised alarm due to the high levels of heavy metals found in most baby foods.  The House Oversight Committee reviewed documents provided by four of the largest baby food makers in the U.S. — and found that all four used ingredients containing high levels of arsenic, mercury, and lead. The problem, according to experts, is that the Food and Drug Administration does not put very strict limits on the amount of these toxins that can be in baby food. Reports of the metals contamination first emerged in 2019 prompting the investigation.

Why This Matters:  Even low levels of exposure to these metals can cause serious damage to brain development in kids.  To some extent, the problem is that the metals occur naturally in rice and other baby food ingredients.  But the government knew according to the Committee and did nothing.  In August 2019, the baby food maker Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) briefed the FDA, revealing the extent of contamination and that current testing is inadequate.  Regrettably, parents have little choice on baby food because metals seem to be present in all of them.  

The Committee’s Findings

The Committee requested documents and test results from seven companies.  Four of them — Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber — responded, producing internal testing policies, test results for ingredients and/or finished products. However, the other companies — Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods — refused to cooperate with the investigation.

According to the report, all the metals were present in all the baby foods, with only one of the companies testing for mercury.  They found that these metals were found at levels that are “multiples higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products.”   The Report went on to explain, “the Food and Drug Administration has set the maximum allowable levels in bottled water at 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb lead, and 5 ppb cadmium, and the Environmental Protection Agency has capped the allowable level of mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb. The test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipse those levels: including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.”

The Committee’s Recommendations

The Subcommittee concluded that the FDA needed to be much stricter with respect to baby foods and made several specific recommendations.

  1. Mandatory testing: manufacturers should test their finished products for toxic heavy metals, not just their ingredients.
  2. Labeling: manufacturers should report levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels.
  3. Voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients: manufacturers should voluntarily find substitutes or phase out products that have high amounts of ingredients that frequently test high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice.
  4. FDA standards: the FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods.
  5. Parental vigilance: Parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients testing high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice products.

To Go Deeper:  Read the Committee Report here.

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