- Consumer Reports tested 45 different juices on the market and found elevated levels of heavy metals — cadmium, lead, mercury and inorganic arsenic — in 21 of them, according to a new report. Seven of the juices could be harmful to children who drink more than a half cup a day, while nine may be hazardous to kids who drink 1 cup a day or more.
- The group tested a sample of different fruit juices — name brands, store brands, juices in boxes and pouches for kids, organic and conventional. All of them had some degree of heavy metal residue, the study found. There was no appreciable difference between the different varieties, except grape and juice blends tended to have the highest level of heavy metal residue.
- Similar tests were done by Consumer Reports in 2011, and most juices showed improvements in heavy metal levels this year. Some were dramatic. For example, the amount of inorganic arsenic in Gerber’s 100% Apple Juice went down 79%, and lead in the product was reduced by 97%. Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Consumer Reports this could be the result of more companies paying attention to their "supply chain, from orchard to store, to figure out where the contamination is happening."
It's been nothing but bad news for the juice industry in recent years. Consumers are turning away from the drink because one in five say it has too much sugar to be healthy, according to Mintel. And consumers aren't wrong. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ounce for ounce, orange juice contains about the same number of calories as sugar-sweetened soda. The market research firm projects the $19.8 billion market for the beverage is expected to decline 7% between 2016 and 2021.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also has recommended that parents don't give any juice to children younger than 1 year old. It says the high sugar content can increase the risk of cavities in children, and the lack of protein and fiber could lead to inappropriate weight gain.
Now this latest study shows drinking what's seen as normal amounts of juice can increase the risk for cancer, cognitive and reproductive problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, according to Consumer Reports. And it doesn't matter that the heavy metal levels have improved since the last time Consumer Reports studied juice in 2011. The headline from this story that will resonate with consumers is that many juices are unsafe to drink, especially for children.
How does all of this happen? It seems to be an unfortunate consequence of the juice segment. Fruit has natural sugars, which become concentrated in juice. As far as the contaminants found by Consumer Reports, these heavy metals are present in the air and soil and can be absorbed into plants. Consumer Reports asked all of the manufacturers they tested about their policies and procedures for keeping heavy metals out of their juices. Less than a quarter responded.
Many said they do their own testing, adhere to government regulations, and noted that heavy metals can be naturally occurring. The government is also aware of the potential problems in juices. Since 2011, the Food and Drug Administration has been doing stepped-up testing — paying specific attention to arsenic levels in apple juice, which are currently low, the agency said.
At first glance, these results may look similar to tests done by other groups showing glyphosate reside on popular products such as cereal, granola bars and ice cream. However, the potential harm factor is different. While scientists say the glyphosate residue found on these products is likely not enough to cause health risks, the heavy metal levels in some of these juices actually could be potentially hazardous. Juice manufacturers cannot reasonably argue that there is little risk from their product and that the report was released purely for shock value.
Juice manufacturers are in a tough spot. However, as Gerber's example showed, improvements are possible. More attention to the entire supply chain — from the source of fruits to methods of production, packaging and transportation — could help. Not only could this attention reveal potential issues with fruit sources — like trees growing near factories with air pollution or a higher level of heavy metals in soil — but it could provide manufacturers with information to give consumers on traceability.