- Tests by Consumer Reports showed amounts of heavy metals in many baby and toddler foods. The publication found all foods had measurable levels of at least cadmium, inorganic arsenic or lead, and about two-thirds (68 percent) had worrisome levels of at least one heavy metal.
- Testing found snacks and products containing rice or sweet potatoes were particularly likely to have high levels of heavy metals. Most of the products came from the two biggest U.S. baby food manufacturers, Beech-Nut and Gerber, a division of Nestlé. Consumer Reports also looked at foods sold under the Baby Mum-Mum, Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, Happy Baby, Walmart’s Parent’s Choice, Plum Organics and Sprout brands.
- The publication’s testing also had found some evidence of encouragement. It showed 16 of the products had less concerning levels of the heavy metals, suggesting that all baby food manufacturers should be able to achieve similar results.
Certainly no one wants to hear there are troublesome amounts of potentially dangerous heavy metals in the foods they feed their children. As Consumer Reports and other groups have noted, exposure to elevated levels of heavy metals over time is especially dangerous — in particular to cognitive development in children.
In a statement, a Gerber spokesperson said its "safety and quality standards ... are among the strictest in the world" and are developed after assessing food safety guidance from the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other sources.
"Many elements occur naturally in our environment — so it’s possible that trace amounts may get into fruits, vegetables and grains as they grow," the spokesperson said. "That’s why we regularly test our ingredients, and periodically test our finished foods. We want to reassure parents that we never compromise on the safety or quality of our foods."
These elements cited by the publication are part of the Earth’s crust, so they are found naturally in the environment. Most of the heavy metals in food come from water or soil contaminated through farming or practices such as mining, smelting or pesticide use. It's possible that some companies can attempt to minimize the amount of heavy metals in foods by buying rice, potatoes or other ingredients that are grown on organic farms. Still, that can be difficult to do if nearby water tables are tarnished. And organic crops can be more costly to produce, meaning products with these ingredients are more expensive to buy, especially if there is increased consumer demand.
This finding is the latest to rattle the food supply. Glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization, was recently found in 43 out of 45 samples of breakfast food products marketed to children made with conventionally grown oats, according to independent laboratory tests commissioned recently by the Environmental Working Group. If found that about one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also had glyphosate. In addition, 31 out of 45 samples had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists' health benchmark (160 parts per billion).
For its part, the federal government has a working group looking into heavy metals in foods, led by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Conrad Choiniere, director of the FDA's Office of Analytics and Outreach, said on the agency's website that the metals themselves have not become more dangerous, but as science advances, people learn more about the effects they may have on health.
Better methods for detecting these metals also have been developed, so they can find smaller traces in food than before. Choiniere said some contaminates have gone down in the food supply, such as lead, but with better detection, scientists can identify other areas in which they can lower levels of other heavy metals in foods.
The news that there are heavy metals in foods isn’t a complete surprise, and yet nine out of 10 parents still feed their children packaged baby foods at least occasionally. So while it certainly pays for food companies to heed the tests and make improvements where they can, it remains to be seen how many of them will work to bring numbers down just to appeal to particularly fussy parents. For those companies that decide to rid their baby food of these metals, it could be a lucrative marketing tool to attract and retain customers, many of whom are increasingly concerned about eating healthier and watching the ingredients included in foods they eat or feed to their children.