According to an internal investigation, four leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold baby food that contained high levels of toxic heavy metals. This includes lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, which are listed on the World Health Organization’s top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children.
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, opened the investigation that exposed the dangerous levels of toxins. The investigation revealed that some baby foods contained hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals. Krishnamoorthi described the spreadsheets provided by the manufacturers as “shocking” and noted that ” in a lot of cases, we should not have anything more than single digit parts per billion of any of these metals in any of our foods.”
What accounts for the high levels of toxins?
While these chemicals exist naturally in soil, the higher levels observed during the investigation are likely due to the overuse of pesticides and industrial pollution.
The toxins are dangerous.
The toxins identified during the investigation can cause cancer, chronic disease and neurotoxic effects, not to mention devastating damage to a developing baby’s brain. From conception through the age of two, babies have a high sensitivity to neurotoxic chemicals. Issues associated with toxic exposure run the gamut: behavioral problems, IQ loss, aggression and a list of cognitive and behavioral deficits. These issues could affect a person’s functioning throughout their life.
Despite the dangerous and potentially fatal effects of the toxins found during the investigation, the US Food and Drug Administration has not yet set minimum levels for heavy metals in most infant food. The agency did set a standard of 100 parts per billion inorganic arsenic for infant rice cereal, but even that level is considered too high for a baby’s safety, according to health officials. Curiously, the FDA set a much lower standard of 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic for bottled water.
Inspiration for the Investigation
Healthy Babies Bright Futures published a report in 2019 that found toxic metals in 95% of the baby foods randomly pulled off supermarket shelves. That exposé was the “inspiration” for the subcommittee’s recent work.
Internal testing done by Gerber, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Nurture, Inc. (Happy Baby products), and Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic baby food) showed levels of heavy metals far above limits set for bottled water by the FDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The fact that a jar of food was organic did not make a difference in the levels of toxicity. Baby food ingredients in certain products contained up to 91 times the inorganic arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to five times the mercury level allowed in bottled water, per the report. Regardless, these companies approved those products for sale.
Three additional baby food companies did not fully cooperate with the investigation, according to the congressional committee. These companies include Sprout Organic Foods, Walmart (Parent’s Choice baby food), and Campbell Soup Company (Plum Organics). “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,” the report stated.
The report also stated that Hain Celestial Group, Inc., maker of Earth’s Best Organic, had presented “a secret slide presentation” in August 2019. The results of the limited testing were alarming. “The slides showed the FDA that Hain routinely tested only the ingredients that go into their baby foods for heavy metals, and failed to test the finished product that would be sold,” the report said. Yet 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 subcommittee wrote. “This presentation made clear that ingredient testing is inadequate, and that only final product testing can measure the true danger posed by baby.
Government Regulation is Needed
To date, the government has taken no new action in response to the presentation, per the investigation: “To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents. Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all.”
The subcommittee report was clear on what should be done:
- Instead of setting limits for one food at a time, the FDA should standardize maximum levels for each toxic metal that can damage a baby’s developing brain and apply them to all foods.
- There should be mandatory testing of any baby food product before it hits the shelves.
- Manufacturers should no longer be allowed to simply test ingredients.
- Substitutes should be found for any ingredients over recommended limits, and if that cannot happen, then the food or ingredient should not be used in baby food.
“Every maker of baby food … is on notice that we in Congress are not going to sit back and accept the status quo anymore,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I hope that companies would voluntarily start to undertake actions such as testing their food more properly and thoroughly and phase out certain ingredients that we know are problematic right now,” he said.
If you or a loved one has suffered from food contamination through no fault of your own, call Allen & Allen today to discuss your unique situation, at 888-388-1307.