Are Baby Foods Tainted With Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals?

Review easy ways to reduce your child’s risk from heavy metals in baby food.

Why do some parents think that baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of toxic metals?

A staff report from the US House of Representatives showed that "commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury."

It’s likely because they recently read articles and posts about a staff report from the US House of Representatives which showed that “commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.”

A report that was prompted by a study last year, What’s in my baby’s food?, that found 95% of baby food tested contained lead, arsenic, mercury or cadmium.

Are Baby Foods Tainted With Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals?

Wait, what?

Commercial baby foods really are “tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury?”

Yes, it seems that they are.

As compared to the maximum allowable levels in bottled water that are set by the FDA, the latest report found that baby foods and their ingredients tested at up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.

How has this happened?

“FDA HAS FAILED TO CONFRONT THE RISKS OF TOXIC HEAVY METALS IN BABY FOOD. THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IGNORED A SECRET INDUSTRY PRESENTATION ABOUT HIGHER AMOUNTS OF TOXIC HEAVY METALS IN FINISHED BABY FOODS.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

We have been hearing about arsenic in rice and baby food for nearly 10 15 years, so it is hard to make this a Trump problem…

“In the context of arsenic in baby food, there are only two FDA regulations for specific products—an unenforceable draft guidance issued in July 2013, but never finalized, recommending an action level of 10 ppb for inorganic arsenic in single-strength (ready to drink) apple juice, and an August 2020 final guidance, setting an action level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals at 100 ppb.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

How about we just look at it as a problem that needs to be fixed?

Do you want the FDA to add more regulations for baby foods, ensuring that they are all safe and free of heavy metals?

To understand why that wouldn’t be a quick fix, you have to understand how these baby foods likely became tainted with heavy metals. After all, it’s not like the baby food manufacturers are adding them as an ingredient…

The problem is that the rice, vegetables, and fruits that they use to make baby food are actually tainted with arsenic and other heavy metals!

“Step one to restoring that trust is for manufacturers to voluntarily and immediately reduce the levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby foods to as close to zero as possible. If that is impossible for foods containing certain ingredients, then those ingredients should not be included in baby foods.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

Yes, let’s hope that the companies stop making baby food that is contaminated with heavy metals and if they don’t, let’s set high FDA standards for baby food to make sure that they do.

Either way, we are going to need a food supply that isn’t tainted with heavy metals…

“On August 1, 2019, FDA received a secret slide presentation from Hain, the maker of Earth’s Best Organic baby food, which revealed that finished baby food products contain even higher levels of toxic heavy metals than estimates based on individual ingredient test results. One heavy metal in particular, inorganic arsenic, was repeatedly found to be present at 28-93% higher levels than estimated.”

Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury

And no, simply switching to organic foods isn’t the answer.

What Parents Should Know About Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

So what should parents do?

One obvious thing is to keep pressure on politicians and the companies that make baby food to fix this problem.

But that’s a long term fix…

Right now, you should understand that while baby foods do likely contain these heavy metals, it is not at toxic levels that will cause immediate harm.

And understand that many of the studies on exposure to heavy metals and risks for children were not necessarily specific to baby foods, but were often on general environmental exposure.

Children are exposed to heavy metals from many sources, including parents who smoke, lead in paint and water, and mercury in seafood, etc.
Children are exposed to heavy metals from many sources, including parents who smoke, lead in paint and water, and mercury in seafood, etc.

Still, you should work to decrease your child’s risk of exposure to heavy metals from food by:

  • avoiding apple juice, as like rice, apples can take up arsenic in the soil they are grown in, although keep in mind that infants shouldn’t be given any juice anyway
  • feeding your kids a variety of rices and grains, including oatmeal, barley, multi-grain rice, basmati rice, millet, and quinoa, etc. – remembering that iron-fortified cereals are a good source of iron, so typically shouldn’t be avoided all together
  • looking for rice-free baby snacks and limiting how many rice crackers and rice cakes your older kids eat
  • avoiding teething biscuits, as they are typically made with rice flour
  • offering your baby a variety of vegetables, understanding that carrots and sweet potatoes are often the ones that are most heavily contaminated with heavy metals, so continue to give since they are also high in nutrients, but mix in with a lot of other veggies
  • offering a variety of plant based milks if your older child has a milk allergy (giving breastmilk or an iron fortified infant formula until 12 months), so that they aren’t just drinking rice milk

What else can we do?

“Chemicals are part of our daily life. All living and inanimate matter is made up of chemicals and virtually every manufactured product involves the use of chemicals. Many chemicals can, when properly used, significantly contribute to the improvement of our quality of life, health and well-being. But other chemicals are highly hazardous and can negatively affect our health and environment when improperly managed.”

Action is Needed On Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern

We can focus on real risks, instead of the never ending parade of things that we might be told to worry about, from pesticide residues and sunscreen ingredients to vaccines and GMOs.

Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed and scared of made up risks, focus on things that really might affect your kids, like this news about heavy metals in baby foods.

But even then, understand that the risk isn’t so high that you have to throw out of the jars of baby food you just bought and start making your own. Just give your child a good variety of foods, so that they don’t get too many of the same foods that might contain heavy metals.

And no, you don’t have get your kids tested for heavy metals if your main concern is exposure to heavy metals in baby food…

More on Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

Author: Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD