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Congressional Report: These Organic and Conventional Baby Foods Are Full of Toxic Metals

Unacceptably high levels of toxic metals have been found in four major baby food brands. Here's what parents need to know.

A congressional report released on Thursday, February 4th revealed that four major baby food manufacturers sold baby food that had high levels of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury to consumers. The levels found in these baby foods were found at higher levels than what’s allowed in other products that are sold to consumers like bottled water.

The report once again revealed how little the federal government actually regulates the production of baby food — a long-known problem that is only highlighted by the report. The amounts of toxic metals in the baby food detailed in the report showed that the baby foods have hundreds of parts per billion of the toxic metals, when in most cases, the maximum amount of toxic metals, which are somewhat unavoidable, should be in single parts per billion, not hundreds. 

A 2019 report had found that there were toxic metals in the vast majority of baby foods pulled from shelves — as in, 95 percent — which led to the congressional investigation. It’s important to note that there are no regulations to check baby foods for toxic metals and it is on the brands to do it themselves, which is what makes the situation so dangerous. Basically, that means that there are no safe brands — not even the organic brands

What Brands Are Reported to Have High Levels of Toxic Metals?

— Gerber 

— Beech-Nut Nutrition Company 

— Nurture, Inc (which sells Happy Baby Products)

— Hain’s Celestial Group, Inc, (which sells Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food)

So Are Other Brands Safer?

In short, no. While the four baby food companies above did cooperate with the investigation — and their foods were found to have an unsafe level of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, and lead — three other companies, Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Company, refused to cooperate with the investigation at all, leading to concerns that the levels of the toxic metals in these foods are higher than those of the competitors. 

— Walmart (which sells Parents’ Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic)

— Sprout Organic Foods 

— Campbell Soup Company 

Why Are There High Levels of Toxic Metals In Baby Food?

It’s important to note that, as alluded to above, these toxic metals are natural and also unnatural materials found in soil that can ultimately never be fully avoided. There are no federal limits for arsenic in most foods. Instead, the FDA issues specific guidance for industry on limits in certain foods such as infant rice cereals and apple juice, which have been past offenders. The recommendations are not legally enforceable. 

The foods that tend to have the highest level of arsenic in general are rice (brown is worse than others; but this is soaking and rinsing rice thoroughly matters), all sorts of rice products, seafood, and mushrooms. The presence of these toxic metals can be exacerbated by the use of pesticides and pollution — as, for a long time, the metals were used as a pesticide themselves. Monitoring the presence of them in baby foods is deeply important because they can harm the development of babies. 

What Do Toxic Metals Do To Your Body?

Long-term exposure to these toxic metals can first and foremost harm the development of babies’ brains. This is why this is such a hot button issue for parents. Repeated exposure to arsenic, one of the more common heavy metals found in food, can  lead to skin cancer in the long-term. In the short term, skin can break out into lesions and develop hard patches of skin on the soles of the feet. They 

What Can You Do?

First: the toxic metal issue in baby foods is an industry-wide problem that has been a problem for a while and government regulation continues to be lax. So letting representatives know that as a parent and voter, you want to see more oversight of toxic metals is an important step to get more reports that expose metals in all kinds of food.

Second, you can work to limit inorganic and organic toxic metals. For babies, this might mean trying to source and make their own baby food (obviously, this solution is inaccessible to many parents; hence the need first for more government oversight.) When you’re buying baby food and snacks, refer to this handy list from Consumer Reports of common baby foods that they have independently tested. Generally, when it comes to arsenic, one of the biggest offenders is rice, so switch to white rice since brown rice contains more arsenic and soak and rinse your rice before cooking it. For mercury, it’s all about the seafood. This list from the FDA offers a broad overview of mercury in different species.  Tuna is the prime offender, so switch to salmon when you can and look for low-mercury tuna (tested by the brand or independently) where you can.