Leading baby food brands knowingly sold products with high levels of toxic metals, investigation finds

CNN — Four leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold baby food that had high levels of toxic heavy metals, according to internal company documents included in a congressional investigation released Thursday.

“Dangerous levels of toxic metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury exist in baby foods at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are permissible,” said Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, who is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which conducted the investigation.

Krishnamoorthi said the findings are “shocking” because they show evidence that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals. “Yet we know that in a lot of cases, we should not have anything more than single digit parts per billion of any of these metals in any of our foods,” he said.

Internal testing done by Gerber; Beech-Nut Nutrition Company; Nurture, Inc., which sells Happy Baby products; and Hain Celestial Group, Inc., which sells Earth’s Best Organic baby food, showed levels of heavy metals far above limits set for bottled water by the FDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency, investigators found.

Some baby food products had up to 91 times the inorganic arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level and up to five times the mercury allowed in bottled water, the report said. The companies still approved those products to be sold.

Whether the baby food was organic or not did not matter, the subcommittee found — levels of toxic metals were still high.

A statement from Gerber read, in part, “All our foods meet our safety and quality standards, which are among the strictest in not just the U.S., but the world. Gerber foods are backed up by rigorous oversight at all levels of the growing and production process. Where government standards don’t currently exist, we develop our own rigorous standards by applying the latest food safety guidance.

“As stated in our 2019 response to the Congressional Inquiry, the elements in question occur naturally in the soil and water in which crops are grown. To minimize their presence, we take multiple steps including: prioritizing growing locations based on climate and soil composition; approving fields before crops are planted based on soil testing; rotating crops according to best available science; and testing of produce, water and other ingredients.”

Beech-Nut also commented to say it “established heavy metal testing standards 35 years ago, and we continuously review and strengthen them wherever possible.” In addition, the company said it tested “every delivery of fruits, vegetables, rice and other ingredients for up to 255 contaminants to confirm that every shipment meets our strict quality standards. If the ingredients don’t meet our standards, we reject them.”

Hain reached out after the report published and provided the following statement: “We are disappointed that the Subcommittee report examined outdated data and does not reflect our current practices. Earth’s Best has consistently supported efforts to reduce naturally occurring heavy metals from our food supply and stands ready to assist the Subcomittee’s efforts toward that goal.”

No new action by the FDA

The FDA under the Trump Administration took no new action in response to the investigation’s findings.

The investigation found that “To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents. Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all.”

The FDA responded with this statement:

“Sampling of infant rice cereal showed that since 2016 manufacturers have made significant progress in reducing arsenic in infant rice cereal products, demonstrating that this action level is achievable by industry.

“Going forward,” the FDA said, “good manufacturing processes, such as sourcing rice and other ingredients with lower inorganic arsenic levels, will continue to help manufacturers produce infant rice cereal with inorganic arsenic levels below the action level.”

An FDA official said the agency is reviewing the subcommittee report’s findings.

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