Many popular baby foods contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, which are toxic to infants and may result in permanent neurological damage, according to a new U.S. Congressional Report.
A House Oversight Committee report (PDF) released on February 4 looked into the presence of heavy metal levels in baby foods, as part of an investigation which called on companies to submit reports and internal testing data.
The testing revealed high levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium in baby food products. It found some products contained higher levels of heavy metals than are allowable in bottled water. High levels of toxic heavy metals were also found in organic products.
This isn’t the first time health officials have warned of toxic metal levels in baby food products. A report published in 2019 revealed heavy metals were found in 95% of baby food products sold throughout the U.S.
Baby food companies rarely test their products for contaminants before sending jars to retail shelves, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not set limits on heavy metals in baby foods, with the exception for arsenic in rice cereal only. That limit was set by the FDA specifically for infant rice cereal in 2016 at 100 parts per billion.
In one example highlighted in the report, testing from Nurture, which makes Happy Family Organics products, indicated the company disregarded their own internal threshold of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for baby snacks. Their baby food contained levels well above that limit. Hain Celestial, the maker of Earth’s Best Organic Foods, had arsenic levels exceeding 100 ppb as well.
Heavy metals do occur naturally in some foods, like rice and vegetables, but the amounts may be increased by adding enzymes, vitamins and mineral mixes. Companies often do that, leading to dangerous levels of heavy metals in the final products.
Beech-Nut uses vitamin mixes which test at 5,000 ppb of lead and 3,000 ppb of cadmium alone. Once these mixes are added to the baby food the levels of heavy metals skyrocket. The company’s standards for cadmium and lead in additive ingredients exceed any existing regulatory standard in existence, indicated investigators.
This is not the first problem health investigators have found with Beech-Nut baby foods. A recall was issued in 2015 for Beech-Nut baby food due to the risk of contamination with small pieces of glass. The recall was issued after a baby suffered an oral injury after eating one of the products.
Four companies responded to requests for information about test results for their products. However, three companies did not respond to the requests, including Walmart which makes Parent’s Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic products, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Company which makes Plum Organics baby food.
Failure to respond to the request raises concerns the products may have even higher levels of heavy metals in the baby food products and the companies wanted to avoid investigation.
Ingredient Testing Failures
The congressional report also detailed a secret industry presentation made to FDA regulators under the Trump administration. The presentation, made in August 2019, highlighted the risks of toxic heavy metals in baby foods.
“Corporate policies to test only ingredients, not final products, underrepresent the levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods,” indicated the report. “In 100% of the Hain baby foods tested, inorganic arsenic levels were higher in the finished baby food than the company estimated they would be based on individual ingredient testing. Inorganic arsenic was between 28% and 93% higher in the finished products.”
The presentation highlighted the inadequacies of ingredient testing and emphasized the need for final product testing to estimate the true danger. The Trump administration took no action.
The lawmakers are calling on the FDA to require baby food manufacturers to test finished products, not just individual ingredients, report the test results on food labels so consumers can see them, and phase out ingredients like rice which are known to be heavy metal laden.
Heavy metal exposure to infants is a serious concern. Lead exposure at any level is extremely unsafe for children. Prior studies have linked heavy metal exposure to behavioral impairments, brain damage, damage to the nervous system, seizures, growth impairments, and even death. More oversight is needed to help protect infants from serious health side effect sand long-term health damage, the report concludes.