Health Risks From Exposure to Heavy Metals
Arsenic exposure can cause adverse respiratory, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, skin, neurological and immunological effects. Exposure to toxic arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury levels can also:
- damage children’s central nervous systems
- damage children’s cognitive development
- permanently decrease IQ
- cause behavioral problems
- diminish future economic productivity
- reduce postnatal growth and delay puberty
- cause Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- cause Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism)
Baby Food & Baby Food Ingredients Tested
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform analyzed Nurture, Inc.’s and Campbell Soup Company’s finished baby food product test results.
However, the current industry standard is to test ingredients only, despite manufacturers’ awareness that higher toxic metal levels occur in processed, finished products. Hain Celestial Group, Inc. revealed to the FDA that vitamin/mineral pre-mix additives, for example, increase toxic heavy metal levels in final products. In fact, the inorganic arsenic levels in 100% of Hain’s tested finished products were 28%-93% higher than in ingredients alone.
Nurture, Inc.’s HappyBABY products tested include:
- rice cakes
- jarred foods
Campbell Soup Company’s Plum Organics products tested include:
- Super Puffs
- Mighty Morning Bars
- Mighty Sticks
- Teensy Snacks
- Grow Well Tummy
- Grow Well Muscle
Other baby food manufacturers’ tested ingredients include:
- vitamin pre-mixes
- vitamin mixes
- juice concentrates
A Closer Look at the Research
In 2019, the nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures conducted a study of 168 baby foods across 61 brands. Ninety-five percent of the baby foods tested contained toxic metals.
On Feb. 4, 2021, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report on four major baby food manufacturers’ testing policies, test results and the companies’ responses to the results. Nurture, Inc. (HappyBABY), Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic) and Gerber submitted information to the committee for analysis. The companies’ testers found high levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in foods made by all four respondents. Testers also detected mercury in Nurture, Inc.’s HappyBABY products. (Nurture, Inc. was the only company to test for mercury.)
The committee’s first report drew startling conclusions about three major manufacturers’ processes.
- sets toxic heavy metal standards that are too high and doesn’t follow them
- conducts testing, but continues to sell all tested products regardless of test results
- established an inorganic arsenic level for infant rice cereal that surpassed the FDA’s limit
Beech-Nut Nutrition Company:
- set internal arsenic and cadmium standards at extremely high levels in additives
- established extremely high lead levels for other ingredients
- set the most unsafe levels of any respondent
Hain Celestial Group, Inc.:
- set internal standards for arsenic, cadmium and lead in some of its ingredients but allowed exceptions
- allowed exceptions to internal standards despite telling the FDA that its testing underestimated the total level of toxic heavy metals in its final products
Although three other manufacturers – Walmart Inc., Sprout Foods, Inc. (now owned by Neptune Wellness Solutions) and Campbell Soup Company -– failed to respond to the committee’s initial request for information, the companies each cooperated in some ways with the committee after the publication of the first report. An analysis in the committee’s second report also revealed troubling findings.
- refuses to test its baby food for toxic heavy metals
- sets maximum toxic heavy metal levels and asks its private label manufacturer to self-certify the foods meet those levels
- fails to verify the self-certified levels are correct
- raised its allowable inorganic arsenic level in baby foods in 2018
Sprout Foods, Inc.
- requires its ingredient suppliers to test for toxic heavy metals only once annually
- committee calls this “the most reckless testing practice among manufacturers on the market”
Campbell Soup Company
- products contain high levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead
Alaska also conducted FDA-funded testing on infant rice cereal samples in May 2021. The test concluded that multiple cereal samples from Beech-Nut Nutrition Company and Gerber contained higher levels of inorganic arsenic than the FDA’s limit.
Are manufacturers and government entities recalling or taking other action?
Some manufacturers and government entities are beginning to deal with the problem. Still, other manufacturers blatantly disregard the issue, and government action is slow.
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company discontinued its rice cereal products
- Gerber failed to recall or discontinue sales of its rice cereal, even though it contained a very high level of inorganic arsenic
- urges manufacturers to reduce exposure to toxic heavy metals as much as possible
- created the Closer to Zero Action Plan, which sets timelines for establishing maximum arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury levels
U.S. House Committee Recommendations
- The FDA should update Closer to Zero’s timelines if baby food safety is a priority.
- The FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test finished products for toxic heavy metals, not just ingredients.
- If the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to test finished products, the manufacturers should volunteer.
- Manufacturers should find substitutes for toxic ingredients.
- Manufacturers should phase out products testing high in toxic heavy metals.