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Arsenic, Other Metals May be in Your Baby’s Food, Report Finds

— February 12, 2021

A U.S. House Subcommittee is investigating reports of arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals in baby food.

A congressional investigation is underway to examine levels of arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals in baby food that may cause brain development issues in babies. As part of the investigation, a U.S. House Subcommittee requested internal data from seven companies, including Walmart, after a nonprofit called Healthy Babies Bright Futures published results of testing it did on baby foods in 2019.

Image of a baby fresh from the bath
Baby fresh from the bath; image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay,

So far, four of those companies, including Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organics maker Hain Celestial and Happy Family Organics maker Nurture Inc. have shared documents. Walmart, Campbell Soup Co., and Sprout Foods have yet to cooperate, according to the subcommittee.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with Consumer Reports, heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury can be harmful to human health and can even “remain in the environment for decades from past pesticide and herbicide use.” Hansen noted that toxic metals can be “more common in baby foods because of the vitamins and minerals added to those foods during processing.” 

For example, “rice, a common ingredient in baby foods, tends to have high levels of arsenic” because it is grown in water. “Arsenic from the soil dissolves when it comes in contact with water,” Hansen said. Arsenic and other heavy metals are considered dangerous, especially to babies because their brains are still developing. There are still a lot of unknowns about how “those metals could damage that development.” 

Hansen added that for now, if parents are concerned about heavy metals in their children’s food, they should switch to unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the FDA recommends “feeding babies a variety of grain-based cereals, not just those made with rice.” 

The FDA issued guidance for infant rice cereal last year, recommending “it contain no more than 100 parts per billion of arsenic.” According to the subcommittee’s report, “Beech-Nut used some ingredients that tested as high as 913 parts per billion for arsenic, while Earth’s Best Organics used ingredients testing as high as 309 parts per billion for arsenic.” To make matters worse, “the report found some instances where manufacturers tested ingredients but not final products, even though levels of toxic metals might be higher in the finished products.” Additionally, the report found instances “where manufacturers set internal standards but still sold foods that exceeded them.”

U.S. House Subcommittee leading the charge on this matter is led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat. She would like for the FDA to “set standards for the presence of heavy metals in baby foods.” Additionally, “manufacturers should be required to test finished products and publish the results,” according to the report.


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