Feb. 4, 2021 -- A congressional panel says major brands of commercial baby food routinely have high levels of toxic heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic.
The House Oversight Committee’s panel says the FDA is not doing enough to regulate the products, leaving babies at risk for serious developmental and neurological problems.
Consumer Reports, which produced its own report in 2018 of the dangers of toxic metals in baby food, called the subcommittee report “disturbing.”
“The findings in the report are disturbing since exposure to even small amounts of these heavy metals at an early age may increase the risk of significant health problems over time," Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “It's especially troubling that some companies knew of the high levels of heavy metal contamination and still sold the products."
The committee asked several major brands to voluntarily submit internal testing data for levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Four complied with the request: Gerber, Beech-Nut, Nurture (which makes Happy Baby products), and Hain Celestial Group, which makes Earth’s Best Organic. Several others refused, including Campbell Soup, Walmart, and Sprout Foods.
“Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber cooperated with the subcommittee’s investigation, despite the fact that doing so exposed their reckless disregard for the health of babies,” the report says.
“Beech-Nut established heavy metal testing standards 35 years ago, and we continuously review and strengthen them wherever possible,” Jason Jacobs, vice president of food safety, quality and innovation, told The Washington Post. “We look forward to working with the FDA, in partnership with the Baby Food Council, on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry.”
The subcommittee questioned why Campbell, Walmart, and Sprout refused to cooperate.
“The subcommittee is greatly concerned that these companies might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products,” the report says.
The panel also leveled criticism at the FDA for not regulating these products.
“Despite the well-known risks of harm to babies from toxic heavy metals, FDA has not taken adequate steps to decrease their presence in baby foods,” the report says. “FDA has not issued thresholds for the vast majority of toxic heavy metals in baby foods and does not require warning labels on any baby food products.”
Infant rice cereal is the only baby food with a legal limit on the amount of arsenic that may be included in a commercial baby food product. That limit is 100 parts per billion. The FDA has, however, set a limit of 10 parts per billion for arsenic in bottled water, The Washington Post reported.
The subcommittee report shows that Hain used a vitamin pre-mix with 223 parts per billion of arsenic but did not test its final products.
Hain spokeswoman Robin Shallow said told the Post that “Earth’s Best has consistently supported efforts to reduce naturally occurring heavy metals from our food supply.”