Baby food has been facing some much-needed scrutiny lately. A recently released Congressional report disclosed that many top baby foods, both organic and non-organic, are contaminated with dangerous levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. This is especially concerning since both the World Health Organization and the FDA have concluded that these heavy metals pose a danger to human health, and to babies and children in particular.
The findings are the result of a year-long investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform into heavy metals in baby food. Launched after a 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found toxic metals in 95% of the baby food they tested, the Congressional investigation asked top baby food companies to voluntarily produce information about their testing policies and test results. Four companies responded to this request: Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Nurture. The Hain products are labeled as ‘Earth’s Best Organic’ and the Nurture products are labeled as ‘HappyBABY’. Three other companies—Walmart, Sprout Organic, and Campbell–did not cooperate, according to the Congressional report.
The responses to the Congressional inquiry revealed a major problem: all of the companies had used ingredients containing heavy metals in their baby food. Not only that, but the companies had routinely ignored their own standards for toxic metals, continuing to sell tainted baby food to families. And most of the companies had failed to test their finished baby food products for toxic metals, despite an industry admission that testing only the ingredients might underestimate the amount of heavy metals in the finished product. Below are the some of the results included in the Congressional report. (Keep in mind that these numbers are from the companies’ own test results, not results from an independent lab.)
Arsenic was found in Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Nurture products.
- Gerber’s ingredients were high in arsenic content. They routinely used rice flour that contained over 90 ppb inorganic arsenic.
- Beech-Nut regularly used additives with more than 300 ppb arsenic. Other ingredients were still used after they tested at levels as high as 913.4 ppb arsenic.
- Hain sold finished products that contained up to 129 ppb inorganic arsenic. They also used ingredients that tested at levels as high as 309 ppb arsenic.
- Nurture’s typical baby food product contained 60 parts per billion (ppb) inorganic arsenic. Their products continued to be sold after testing revealed they had as much as 180 ppb inorganic arsenic. More than 25% of Nurture’s tested products contained more than 100 ppb inorganic arsenic.
Cadmium was found in Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Nurture products.
- 75% of Gerber’s carrots had cadmium above 5 ppb and some even contained 87 ppb.
- Beech-Nut used 105 ingredients with more than 20 ppb cadmium and some tested up to 344.55 ppb cadmium.
- Hain used 102 ingredients that tested above 20 ppb cadmium and some had as much as 260 ppb cadmium.
- 65% of Nurture’s finished products had more than 5 ppb cadmium.
Lead was found in Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Nurture products.
- Gerber used some ingredients with lead levels up to 48 ppb and many ingredients over 20 ppb lead.
- Beech-Nut used ingredients with lead amounts as high as 886.9 ppb. They also used 483 ingredients with more than 5 ppb lead, 89 ingredients with more than 15 ppb lead, and 57 with more than 20 ppb lead.
- Hain used ingredients with lead amounts as high as 352 ppb. 88 ingredients were used that had more than 20 ppb lead and 6 were used that had levels higher than 200 ppb lead.
- Nearly 20% of Nurture’s baby food products that were tested had more than 10 ppb lead. Nurture also sold finished products that had lead levels as high as 641 ppb.
Mercury was found in Nurture products, the only company that tested for it.
- Gerber rarely tests for mercury in their products.
- Beech-Nut and Hain do not test for mercury in their products at all.
- Nurture sold finished products with as high as 10 ppb mercury.
According to the report, Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and the Campbell Soup Company refused to supply information to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Walmart sells Parents’ Choice and Parents’ Choice Organic baby food, and Campbell makes Plum Organics baby food. This refusal to cooperate caused members of the Congressional Committee to express concern that these companies might be hiding even higher levels of heavy metals in their baby food products than the companies who did respond.
Exposure to heavy metals can be detrimental at any age, but infants are especially vulnerable to the health consequences. Heavy metals have a direct impact on infant development and have been proven to cause brain damage and a decrease in IQ in young children. That is because children and infants absorb, retain, and deposit more toxic metals in their developing brains than adults exposed to similar amounts. For this reason, even low levels from food sources can add up to a level of concern, according to the FDA. The most common health problems associated with heavy metal exposure are behavioral disorders, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive or mental impairment, and respiratory problems.
This is not a new issue; consumer safety groups have been warning about this danger for years. As far back as 2017, The Clean Label Project reported finding heavy metals in baby food. It was not until the Healthy Babies Bright Future (HBBF) study in 2019, however, that the government took notice, launching the investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Of the 168 products tested by HBBF in 2019, only nine were free of heavy metals. 73% contained arsenic, 75% contained cadmium, 95% of them contained lead, and 32% of them contained mercury. A quarter of the products tested contained all four heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. This is unacceptable.
So, how did this happen and why isn’t someone stopping it? Because the FDA and the federal government have dropped the ball. According to the recent Congressional report, the government has failed to ensure the safety of baby food, despite knowing the risks to infants and toddlers. The FDA cautions that infants and children are at the greatest risk of harm from exposure to toxic heavy metals, but inexplicably has not set safety limits on most heavy metals in baby food, despite regulating them in other products. Further, the FDA does not even require a warning label on baby food. The Congressional committee wants that to change. They are advocating for mandatory testing of finished baby food products, accurate labeling, a voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients, and for the FDA to set maximum levels for all heavy metals in baby food.
Until those recommendations are in effect, it is up to parents to keep their babies safe. Here are a couple of suggestions for limiting toxic metals in the food your baby eats:
- Offer rice-free snacks to babies. Avoid puff snacks that contain rice flour since rice flour typically contains high levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead,
- Avoid teething biscuits and rice rusks, and opt for healthier choices like frozen bananas.
- Choose water instead of juice for your baby. Fruit juices typically contain trace amounts of arsenic and lead.
- Give baby a variety of fruits and veggies, not just carrots and sweet potatoes. These two usually have higher levels of cadmium and lead compared to other vegetables.
- Look for alternatives to rice cereal. Multi-grain and oatmeal infant cereals contain less arsenic.
- Make your own baby food from organic fruits and vegetables at home.
The bottom line is this: Heavy metals do not belong in baby food products. Period. The risk to developing infants and toddlers is too great. Protect your baby by following these guidelines, and push your representatives in Congress to pass legislation limiting heavy metals and other toxins in baby food. The federal government and the FDA need to take action to address this danger so that parents and children alike can feel, and truly be, safe.
And they need to do it now.
If you or a loved one has been injured by exposure to heavy metals like arsenic, lead, or mercury, call our environmental attorneys today. We can help you get answers and determine if you have a claim. Call 630-527-1595 or fill out our contact form for a free evaluation of your case.