The New York State Attorney General has urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set standards to remove toxic metals from baby foods.
According to the letter written to the Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, AG Letitia James specifically asked the FDA to follow recent congressional recommendations that would set standards for all baby food, expand from rice cereal, and require all food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic metals.
A recent report published by the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy determined that there are high levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods being sold by at least four of the nation’s seven largest manufactures. Such toxic metals included arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
According to the report, even low exposure to these metals can cause severe and irreversible damage to brain development. AG James added that the FDA recently regulated the level of inorganic arsenic in rice cereal for infants at a maximum of 100 parts per billion, which remains 10-times greater than what is allowed for bottled water. Attorney General James commented on these findings:
“Right now, parents across the nation are unknowingly feeding their babies dangerous, toxic metals because these companies are not doing their due diligence to protect our children […] I’m calling on the FDA to do its job and ensure the health and safety of every child in America by setting uniform standards related to toxic metals across all baby foods. Our families cannot accept any less.”
FDA Limits Toxic Metals
Notably, three manufacturers — including Walmart (Parent’s Choice), Campbell (Plum Organics), and Sprout Organic Foods — refused to cooperate with the congressional investigation. Though the FDA limits toxic metals in other consumable products — like bottled water, juice, and candy — the agency has failed to regulate baby food adequately.
In fact, after years of effort, the FDA only recently regulated the level of inorganic arsenic in rice cereal for infants at a maximum of 100 parts per billion, which notably is still 10-times greater than what is allowed for bottled water.
Can Heavy Metals In Baby Food Harm Your Baby?
The low levels of heavy metals found in baby foods likely are a relatively small part of a child’s overall grave metal exposure risk. However, exposure from all sources should be minimized. Heavy metal exposure can be harmful to the developing brain. It’s been linked with problems with learning, cognition, and behavior. But keep in mind that many genetic, social, and environmental factors influence healthy brain development, and heavy metal exposure is just one of these factors.
Metals are found naturally in the Earth’s crust. They also are released into our environment as pollution and get into the water and soil used to grow food. Metals can also get into food from food manufacturing and packaging. Some of the most common metals that get into food, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, include inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
More essential rules and regulations for testing and limiting heavy metals in foods for babies and toddlers are most important. But there are several steps parents can take now to reduce the risk that kids will be exposed to heavy metals in their diet, and from other sources:
1. Serve a Variety of Foods
Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes various fruits, vegetables (wash in cool water before preparing and serving), grains, and lean protein. Eating multiple healthy foods that are rich in essential nutrients can lower the exposure to metals and other contaminants found in some foods.
2. Read the Labels
Multi-ingredient baby food blends may be a good option. Be aware that many have the same first or second ingredient, though. For example, different flavor blends, like kale/pear and spinach/pumpkin, may actually both have sweet potatoes as their first ingredient. It’s essential to read the ingredients label to be sure you are offering a real variety of foods.
3. Switch up Your Grains
Fortified infant cereals can be a good source of nutrition for babies, but rice cereal does not need to be the first or only cereal used. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. You can include various grains in your baby’s diet, including oat, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, and bulgur. Multi-grain infant cereals can be the right choice. Try to avoid using rice milk and brown rice syrup, which is sometimes used as a sweetener in processed toddler foods.
In the absence of FDA leadership and oversight over the last four years, baby food manufacturers have been able to set their own internal standards for levels of toxic metals. But the congressional report highlights how some companies regularly do not even comply with their own guidelines — which can contain ingredients with toxic metals already several hundred times the maximum levels recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Exploring All Legal Options
The Attorney General’s letter urged the FDA to take immediate action by implementing recommendations set by the congressional report and setting uniform standards related to toxic metals in all baby food. Attorney General Letitia James also stated that she is simultaneously exploring all legal options regarding this matter.
Until more information about metals in baby foods becomes available, experts say there’s no need to get children tested. Tests that look at a child’s hair for metal exposure also are not recommended since this type of testing is scientifically unproven and often inaccurate. Organic baby foods may have lower levels of certain pesticides and other chemicals. Because heavy metals are found in the soil and can get into prepared foods from processing, organic foods often contain similar heavy metals as non-organic foods.
Talk With Your Pediatrician
If you’re concerned about metals exposure in your child, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) has staff who can also speak with parents about environmental toxins concerns. You could also use modern telehealth Apps such as the Global Telehealth Exchange (GTHE) to talk to an expert from the comfort of your home.