December 6, 2021

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What We Know About Heavy Metals in Baby Food

A congressional report says several types of baby food have high levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. Here’s what you need to know:

Who regulates baby food and makes sure it’s safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for all food safety and regularly tests products for heavy metal contamination. The agency hasn’t set maximum allowable levels of heavy metals in baby food, but it does have recommendations for maximum levels of arsenic in infant rice cereal and apple juice.

What does the congressional report say?

The report by the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy urges the FDA to set mandatory maximum levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury allowable in baby food and to require manufacturers to report their levels on food labels. It also asks manufacturers to phase out ingredients that are prone to high levels of toxins, such as rice and certain vitamin premixes.

Which brands were studied?

Nestle SA’s

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Gerber, Nurture Inc.’s Happy Baby, Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp.’s Beech-Nut,

Hain Celestial Group Inc.’s

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Earth’s Best Organic, Sprout Foods Inc.’s Sprout Organic Foods,

Walmart Inc.’s

Parent’s Choice and

Campbell Soup Co.

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’s Plum Organics. All brands were found to have levels higher than what the subcommittee and consumer-advocacy groups such as Consumer Reports and Healthy Babies Bright Futures would like the FDA to require.

What do the baby-food producers say?

Baby-food makers say their products contain these metals at levels that are safe. The companies that responded to The Wall Street Journal said their products meet rigorous safety and quality standards. Several of the top producers formed a council two years ago to work on reducing heavy metal contamination. The industry has made progress in recent years lowering inorganic arsenic found in infant rice cereal, according to the FDA.

Why can’t they remove all traces of heavy metals in baby food?

Baby-food companies and independent scientists point to contamination in soil, water and air as a challenge in this effort. Some brands are changing ingredient suppliers and exploring alternative cultivation methods to reduce their exposure.

What other foods have these?

Rice, protein powder, apple juice and some fish such as bigeye tuna and swordfish can have high levels of arsenic or mercury.

How harmful are the trace amounts?

Exposure to heavy metals in food can be harmful to children because of effects on brain development, according to the FDA, but the extent of potential harm from the levels found in baby foods is unclear. Scientists say that it is difficult to know how much exposure a person has to these metals because it depends on their diet. For healthy adults, it is unlikely to be dangerous.

Write to Annie Gasparro at [email protected]

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