A recent congressional report has parents reeling after finding arsenic, lead and other toxic metals in several well-known brands of baby food. Experts say not to panic – but do make some changes for the future.
“Parents are right to be concerned,” said Kevin Klossner, MD, a pediatrician at Rochester Regional Health’s Penn Fair Pediatrics.
“The government should step in and help better regulate both the producers of baby food and the companies responsible for polluting our soil,” he added. “But in the meantime, there’s plenty that parents can do to keep their families safe.”
Congress tasked a subcommittee to investigate claims of high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in baby foods. That subcommittee asked seven baby food manufacturers to provide information on the heavy metals in their ingredients (spices, additives and vitamins) and in their finished products.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency only allow a certain amount of each of these metals in bottled water. When the subcommittee compared those levels to levels found in baby food, it found baby food to contain “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.”
The report also found that most of the companies failed to regularly test their finished products, and when companies did detect high levels of metals, products were still allowed to be sold on store shelves. Plus, organic products were just as likely to have high levels.
“That makes sense,” Klossner said. “These heavy metals aren’t from pesticides. They are from contaminated soil.”
Metals like these are found naturally in the earth’s crust, but the metals in food most often come from contaminated soil or water – and sometimes from the manufacturing and packaging process.
“Unfortunately, children are especially at risk because we know that long-term exposure to these metals can lower IQ and create behavior problems,” Klossner said. “But the key is long-term exposure.”
Klossner says parents should consider their child’s environment too. Some things to monitor include:
Battle long-term exposure by not relying too heavily on any one vegetable or grain, Klossner said. “The best, and safest, approach is to diversify what you’re offering your child.”
The subcommittee’s report shows some foods are riskier than others, including rice cereal, sweet potatoes, juices and sweet snack puffs. So, Klossner recommends:
“Breastfeeding, if possible, and making your own baby food can also help,” Klossner said. “But the most important thing is to offer a healthy and dynamic diet. Introducing new foods will help make sure your baby doesn’t have long-term exposure to dangerous metals.”
The Department of Pediatrics at Rochester Regional Health provides a broad range of diagnostic and treatment services for children from birth through 21 years of age. Much of the clinical and research activities of the department center on community pediatrics.Learn More