Toxic metals in most baby food. What parents need to know

Child advocates concerned there’s no regulation for heavy metals

Toxic Baby Food
Toxic Baby Food

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You’d think baby food would be the safest, most regulated food in the grocery store.

Arsenic, lead and cadmium are just a few of the heavy toxic metals found inside most baby foods on shelves right now, according to a study by the federal government.

“We’ll right now babies are exposed every day and the impacts are things like reduced IQ, higher incidents of ADHD learning and behavioral problems and this can persist through life,” said Jane Houlihan, lead researcher of Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

Houlihan is the national director of science and health the coalition of advocates whose goal is to reduce babies’ exposures to neurotoxic chemicals.

“The bad news is that these heavy metals contaminate almost every baby food on our shelves,” Houlihan said.

First-time mom Catie Messenger said she was shocked to learn about these metals when her 11-month-old Tinsley started eating other foods.

“It’s pretty scary because a lot of moms rely on that premade stuff especially as a working mom, it’s easy to grab something out of a pantry or fridge that’s premade and that I have to be extra careful,” Messenger said.

A report released early this year by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform revealed baby food brands like Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber all had foods that contained arsenic, lead and cadmium.

Mercury was found in Nurture baby foods, but they’re the only company that tested for it at all. These heavy metals were found in both the organic and non-organic versions of these foods.

Three other companies -- Walmart, Sprouts and Campbell’s Soup -- were asked to provide the same information and chose not to release their data.

“Spinach is one of the highest one when it comes to cadmium and lead and it has to do with how it’s grown. Root vegetables also,” explained Dr. Bethany Atkins, a pediatrician.

Atkins explained that most foods, even at their simplest forms, foods will have some levels of heavy metals.

“Realize there are some naturally occurring toxins out there. W\we should not steer away from them but if I can pronounce everything on there and it’s going to be my child’s main source of nutrition that fine,” Atkins said.

Houlihan said the problem is there’s no regulation as to how much of these metals are allowed in our food.

“We knew about the problem. It’s been known for about 10 years. But this report was eye-opening because it looked at the company’s own test results,” Houlihan said.

After those results, were made public, the Food and Drug Administration outlined a plan to limit the number of heavy metals in baby food but the FDA said it won’t happen overnight.

For example, the FDA says a limit for lead will be proposed by April 2022. It doesn’t plan to propose a limit for arsenic until at least 2022. Suggested limits for cadmium and mercury won’t be issued until at least 2024.

In March, US lawmakers proposed a bill that would not only require the FDA to set limits but also propose to limit the amount of heavy metals allowed in baby foods to be undetectable.

Until that happens, Houlihan recommends parents make some easy swaps to limit those toxic metals.

“Staying away from rice cereal, using other grains, serving carrots and sweet potatoes less frequently mixing them up with other vegetables that are super-nutritious, she suggests. “Staying (away) from fruit juices and rice-based snacks is a really good idea. With those simple changes, you can reduce your child’s exposure by 70-80%”

Houlihan recommends using barley, oats and other grains.

Messenger said that’s easy advice at her house because Tinsley’s favorite is oatmeal, but she won’t feel guilty when her baby has a pre-made snack.

“I’m aware it’s in a lot of products that we eat and babies eat, but just trying to minimize that as much as I can,” Messenger said.

Shopping for baby food

Toxic Baby Food: What should you be looking for?
Toxic Baby Food: What should you be looking for?

How to make your own

How to make your own baby food
How to make your own baby food

About the Author: