An investigation conducted by a consumer watchdog has revealed that several baby food products currently contain higher levels of toxic metals compared to five years ago, despite mounting pressure on the industry to eliminate these harmful contaminants. The study focused on 14 popular baby foods, comparing the levels of lead, arsenic, and cadmium in seven of them to the results obtained in 2018. The selected products were based on their historically elevated metal content.
The findings indicated that three products experienced an increase in metal levels. Gerber's Chicken Rice Dinner and Turkey Rice Dinner flavors, as well as Hot Kid Baby Mum-Mum Teething Wafers, demonstrated elevated levels of toxic metals. However, one product, Beech-Nut baby food sweet potato flavor, showed consistent levels.
Gerber's spokesperson responded to Consumer Reports, stating that they collaborate with farmers to prioritize optimal climate and soil conditions for growing, conduct soil testing, and rotate crops to ensure safety. The company also emphasized its commitment to ongoing research collaborations with public land-grant universities to identify ways to reduce the uptake of heavy metals by crops such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
Rice, a primary ingredient in many teething puffs, was identified as a significant contributor to metal absorption. Children often consume these products in large quantities to alleviate teething pain. Certain foods, including rice, have a propensity to absorb high amounts of metals like lead from the soil. Additionally, locations near highways or small airports, where leaded gasoline was previously used, as well as areas where arsenic pesticides were applied, pose higher risks of metal contamination, as noted by Consumer Reports.
Eric Boring, a chemist overseeing the testing at Consumer Reports, highlighted the cumulative effect of heavy metal exposure from various foods, given their pervasive nature and potential for accumulation in the body. He cautioned that feeding children close to the daily serving limits of these foods leaves little room for additional exposure to heavy metals from other sources.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that lead exposure in young children can impede brain and nervous system development. Experts estimate that approximately 2.5 percent of children under the age of five have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, leading to issues such as slowed growth, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and hearing and speech impairments. Arsenic, another metal detected in multiple products, is a known carcinogen associated with increased risks of bladder, lung, and skin cancers. It has also been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders and higher infant mortality rates.
In a separate report last year, Healthy Babies tested 168 different baby foods and found toxic metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, in 159 of them, indicating a prevalence of 95 percent. Disturbingly, 88 percent of these products lacked enforceable guidelines regarding the permissible levels of these toxic metals.
The previous study conducted in 2018 had identified rice, sweet potatoes, and carrots as the primary sources of heavy metal risks in baby foods. However, this year's results indicate that sweet potatoes and rice now pose the greatest concerns. Notably, three products showed improvement between 2018 and 2023.
For instance, in 2018, parents were advised to limit their children to just one serving of Earth's Best Organic's Sunny Days Snack Bars. However, this year, the product was deemed the least risky, with an increased limit of 4.5 servings per day. Consumer Reports noted a significant 91 percent reduction in lead levels in this particular product. Two flavors of Happy Baby Organics Superfood Puffs, namely Apple and Broccoli, and Purple Carrot and Blueberry, also exhibited slight improvements, with the recommended serving increasing from one to 1.5 servings.
A study conducted by researchers at Florida State University last year revealed that lead poisoning has resulted in an average loss of 2.6 IQ points per person in the United States, primarily attributed to the use of leaded gasoline. In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended limits on the amount of lead in baby food, suggesting that lead prevalence be restricted to 10 parts per billion (ppb) in fruits, certain vegetables, and yogurt, and 20 ppb in root vegetables, which include carrots, beets, and potatoes, as well as dry cereal.
Considering that lead is toxic to children even at levels as low as 10 mcg/dl, the CDC has emphasized that no safe level of lead exposure has been identified for children.