By Annie Gasparro and Sharon Terlep
A congressional investigation found high levels of toxic metals
in several top baby food brands and called on federal regulators to
set stricter standards on the food manufacturers.
Gerber, Beech-Nut, Walmart Inc.'s store brand and several
organic lines of baby foods contained "dangerously high levels" of
arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, according to a report by the
House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy issued Thursday.
Consumer advocacy groups have reached similar conclusions in recent
(Read a Q&A on heavy metals in baby foods and the
These heavy metals naturally occur in soil and water. Baby food
makers say that their products contain these metals at levels that
are safe and that they are already working at reducing their
presence by looking for new suppliers and cultivation methods.
The Democratic majority of the subcommittee says the Food and
Drug Administration, which regulates food safety, should mandate
maximum levels of these metals for baby food. Exposure to heavy
metals in food can be harmful to brain development in children,
according to the FDA, but the extent of potential harm from the
levels found in baby foods is unclear. The agency has set voluntary
guidance for how much arsenic or lead can be in some foods.
"Self regulation is not an answer," said Rep. Raja
Krishnamoorthi (D., Ill.), chairman of the House subcommittee. "We
haven't seen evidence of a company in the U.S. that is in
compliance with world-class standards regarding heavy metals across
The report was prepared by the Democratic staff of the
subcommittee. A spokesman for Republicans on the subcommittee said
Democrats didn't hold hearings or conduct interviews to prepare the
report. "Children's food safety is something that is important to
all Americans, but the Democrats' report is not credible," he
A senior Democratic aide for the subcommittee said evidence for
the report came directly from the companies, which were obligated
to provide Republicans with the same documents.
The FDA said it is reviewing the findings. In a statement, the
agency said that toxic elements, like arsenic, are present in the
environment and enter the food supply through soil, water or air.
"Because they cannot be completely removed, our goal is to reduce
exposure to toxic elements in foods to the greatest extent
feasible," the agency said.
The FDA said it issued guidance in August addressing inorganic
arsenic in infant rice cereal. "We acknowledge that there is more
work to be done, but the FDA reiterates its strong commitment to
continue to reduce consumer exposure to toxic elements and other
contaminants from food," the agency said.
The subcommittee's staff analyzed internal company testing and
independent testing of baby foods and ingredients sold by seven
brands: Gerber, Happy Baby, Beech-Nut, Earth's Best Organic, Sprout
Organic, Walmart's Parent's Choice and Plum Organics.
"Internal company standards permit dangerously high levels of
toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers
have often sold foods that exceeded those levels," the
subcommittee's staff report states.
It found that, for instance, more than 25% of the Happy Baby
products that the company tested contained over 100 parts per
billion of inorganic arsenic, which is the maximum level the FDA
Nurture Inc., which makes Happy Baby, said it only sells
products that have been rigorously tested and don't have
contaminant ranges outside the FDA guidelines. Since trace amounts
of heavy metals can be found naturally in soil and water, the
company said "it is possible that small amounts can be present in
some leafy greens, grains, fruits, and vegetables."
The report found Beech-Nut tested and used 57 ingredients, such
as cinnamon and sweet potatoes, that contained over 20 parts per
billion of lead. The European Union requires no more than 20 parts
per billion of lead in infant formula. The FDA hasn't issued
guidance for baby food.
Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. said it tests each delivery of
ingredients, including fruits, vegetables and rice, for up to 255
contaminants to ensure they meet internal quality standards. The
company said it advocates that the government set standards for
The subcommittee's Democratic majority is asking the FDA to
require manufacturers to report levels of these metals on food
labels, and it is asking baby food manufacturers to phase out
ingredients that are prone to high levels of toxins, such as rice
and certain vitamin premixes.
Sung Kyun Park, co-director of the University of Michigan's
occupational epidemiology program, said some of the levels cited in
the report appear high. "These numbers are striking," Mr. Park
said. "If children are getting served this every day, the
cumulative effects could be substantial." He said he would need a
deeper look at the data to gauge the severity of the findings.
Rui Hai Liu, professor of food science at Cornell University, is
conducting research for the Baby Food Council, a coalition the
industry formed two years ago to work on reducing contamination.
"These naturally occurring contaminants present in vegetables and
fruits can be especially harmful to young children in terms of
their organ development and neurological development," he said.
A spokeswoman for Gerber, which is owned by Nestle SA, said all
of its foods meet its safety standards, which it says are among the
strictest in the world. It is working to minimize the exposure to
heavy metals by testing soil before crops are planted and giving
priority to growth locations with better soil composition, she
A Walmart spokesman said product testing is managed by its
suppliers and "our private label baby food manufacturers must
comply with all applicable laws and regulations."
A spokesman for Campbell Soup Co., which owns Plum Organics,
said that it supports the FDA developing additional guidance on
appropriate levels of heavy metals in baby food, and that it
currently looks to EU, World Health Organization and California's
Proposition 65 standards.
Hain Celestial Group Inc., which owns Earth's Best Organic, said
it continually refines its testing procedures, including screening
out harmful levels of substances that occur naturally, to ensure
the safety of its foods. Sprout Foods Inc., which sells Sprout
Organic, didn't return requests for comment.
Write to Annie Gasparro at email@example.com and Sharon
Terlep at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 04, 2021 16:56 ET (21:56 GMT)
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