Congressional Report Raises Concerns Over Baby Foods and Heavy Metals
But other foods aren't immune from heavy metals as well.
In February of 2021, a lot of rightfully concerned parents were shocked to learn that the baby foods they feed their kids likely contained high levels of toxic heavy metals according to a congressional investigation. As it turns out, those metals may be much more than just a baby problem.
In case you missed it, the House Oversight and Reform's Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittee released a scathing report concerning the contents of various baby foods. The report doesn't mince words, concluding that "commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury" based on both internal manufacturer documents as well as test results showing concentrations of toxic heavy metals far above acceptable FDA standards for bottled water.
Furthermore, the report alleges that some of the baby food manufacturers in the report had internal standards that "permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals," which ultimately underscores a lack of stringent FDA guidance. Currently, baby foods aren't required to carry any warning labeling, and a significant portion of baby foods currently aren't required to be tested whatsoever.
The report's findings are understandably concerning, given that babies under the age of two are particularly sensitive to these kinds of neurotoxic chemicals. Of particular issue is the fact that contact with these toxic metals could impact development.
"[An infant's] brain is forming rapidly, and so when they're exposed to metals that can interrupt those natural processes, the impacts range from behavioral problems to aggression to IQ loss and all kinds of cognitive and behavioral deficits that can persist throughout life," Jane Houlihan, national director of science and health for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, told CNN. The organization put out their own 2019 report on baby foods and toxic chemicals, which was credited for helping to inspire the House subcommittee to take a closer look at the situation.
Among the report's recommendations is the establishment of FDA standards for maximum allowable levels of toxic heavy metals. Currently, the only standard in place is a 100 parts per billion threshold for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, leaving a number of both baby food categories and potentially harmful metals unregulated. The Subcommittee also believes the FDA should mandate both testing and labeling in order to make baby foods safer.
While introducing those regulations would be a necessary first step, the problem of heavy metals is hardly unique to baby foods. As Politico notes, these contaminants can appear throughout the food supply, with even crops pulled from the ground known to show signs of heavy metal contamination due to chemicals, pollutants, and other unnatural occurrences. In essence, parents can't simply solve their problems by skipping baby food entirely.
With the report's findings inspiring parents to pressure and boycott baby food companies, there's hopefully some momentum towards regulation in the near future. Hopefully this concern about the safety of what infants eat will eventually broaden to a more serious consideration of what exactly ends up in our food.