On Thursday, February 4, 2021 the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy for the House of Representatives published a staff report titled “Baby Foods are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury.” The Subcommittee, relying on internal company test results from Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber found that all tested baby foods contained concerning levels of heavy metals. The Subcommittee noted that Walmart, Campbell and Sprout Organic refused to cooperate with the investigation and noted “their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than in their competitors’ products.” The report focused on four heavy metals: arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.
Arsenic is a heavy metal, and exposure to arsenic has been linked to a number of health problems including neurological and immunological effects and damaging effects on the central nervous system and cognitive development in children. The EPA has set a maximum level of 10ppb of arsenic in bottled water, with other groups recommending lower levels for baby foods. Despite that the Staff Report notes that products sold by baby food companies include much higher levels of arsenic, including:
Nurture (HappyBABY): Puff Products Nurture and Rice Cake Products
Hain product ingredients including: Org Brown Rice Flour, Vitamin Pre-Mix, Org Whole Raisins; Org Soft White Wheat Flour; Org Spelt Flour; Organic Barley Malt Extract; Org Yellow Split Pea Powder; Medium Grain Whole Rice; Org Butternut Squash Puree; Org Blueberry Puree; Org Barley Flour; Org Blueberry Puree; and Org Cinnamon Powder
Beechnut product ingredients including: Amylase; BAN 800; Alpha Amylase; Sebamyl 100; Org. Rice Flour; Enzyme; Org. Cumin; Org. Rice; Rice Flour; Oregano; Cumin; Rice; and Vitamin Mix.
Gerber: The report notes that Gerber did not provide inorganic arsenic results for all of its ingredients, but did provide results which revealed that Gerber routinely used flour with over 90 ppb inorganic arsenic.
The report notes a growing consensus among health experts that lead levels in baby foods should not exceed 1 ppb. The report notes that internal testing data reveals that companies sold baby foods even when the finished products or ingredients contained unsafe levels of lead. Products noted in the report include:
Nurture (HappyBaby): The report notes that of the 206 finished products that Nurture tested for lead, “it is not clear that even one…registered at or below 1 ppb.”
Beech-Nut: The report notes that “Beech-Nut tested and used 57 ingredients that contained over 20 ppb lead…89 ingredients that tested at or over 15 ppb lead….and 483 ingredients that tested at or over 5 ppb lead.”
Hain: The report notes that “Hain used an ingredient called vitamin pre-mix…that contained as much as 352 ppb lead…used six ingredients that tested over 200 ppb lead…used 88 ingredients with lead levels at or over 20 ppb… accepted 115 ingredients that registered at or over 15 ppb…and at least 27% of Hain ingredients tested at or over 5 ppb lead.”
Gerber: The report notes that “Gerber produced limited lead testing results. The results for its sweet potatoes and juices demonstrated its willingness to use ingredients that contained dangerous lead levels. Gerber used an ingredient, conventional sweet potatoes with 48 ppb lead. Gerber also used twelve batches of sweet potato that tested over 20 ppb for lead…The average amount of lead in Gerber’s tested juice concentrates was 11.2 ppb”
Cadmium has been linked to a negative effect on children’s Full Scale IQ, particularly among boys. The EPA has a limit of 5ppb of cadmium in drinking water and the FDA has set a limit of 5ppb of cadmium in bottled water. Despite that, the report reveals that internal data from baby food companies shows finished products and ingredients used by companies in baby food contained high levels of cadmium including:
Beech Nut: The report indicates that “Beech-Nut used twenty ingredients registering over 100 ppb cadmium, including cinnamon containing 244.5 ppb cadmium…At least 105 ingredients that Beech-Nut tested and used in baby foods registered at or over 20 ppb cadmium.”
Hain (Earth’s Best Organic): The report reveals that “Hain used 14 ingredients that contained more than 100 ppb cadmium, including barley flour that registered at 260 ppb cadmium…Hain tested and used 102 ingredients that registered at or above 20 ppb cadmium…”
Nurture (HappyBABY): “Nurture sold multi-grain cereal with 49 ppb cadmium. Nurture sold another 125 products that tested over 5ppb…”
Gerber: “Gerber does not test all of its ingredients for cadmium…Gerber used multiple batches of carrots containing as much as 87 ppb cadmium, and 75% of the carrots Gerber used had more than 5 ppb cadmium…”
Mercury exposure has been linked to neurological deficits and poorer IQ. The EPA has capped mercury in drinking water at 2ppb. Despite that, the report reveals that companies either barely test for mercury in their ingredients or finished product, or have sold finished product with levels of mercury above 2 ppb, including:
Nurture (HappyBABY): The report indicates that internal testing shows “Nurture sold finished baby food product that contained 10 ppb mercury, and two others that contained 9.8 and 7.3 ppb… In total, Nurture sold 56 products that contained over 2 ppb mercury.”
Beech-Nut and Hain (Earth’s Best Organic): The report indicates that “it appears that neither Beech-Nut nor Hain tests their ingredients or their finished products for mercury.”
Gerber: The report indicates that “Gerber only testes certain ingredients for mercury. Of the test results presented to the Subcommittee, they only tested carrots, sweet potatoes, and lemon juice concentrate.”
The results of internal testing revealed by the Subcommittee staff report are concerning, and in obvious conflict with the way these products have been marketed to parents, as healthy and safe for children.