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Unless you've been living in a pineapple under the sea, you most likely saw the reports a few weeks ago that made headlines all over the place in regards to heavy metals being found in baby food.
A House of Representatives subcommittee on economic and consumer policy released a report in early February stating that alarming levels of heavy metals were found in most baby foods being sold to the public.
Of course my first impression was one of shock and feelings of guilt for ever trusting these big companies. I am the biggest proponent of “homemade” foods, but even I fed my infant a handful of these store-bought baby foods within the last couple of months.
I felt immediate guilt for ever doing so.
I felt shame for betraying what I have always known to be true – that homemade is best.
Misinformation or truth?
But before going into full panic mode, I wanted to do my own research and read the report myself.
I was hoping that after reading the report, I would find out that it was all a misunderstanding – that mainstream media was exaggerating – that perhaps it was just a tiny bit of heavy metals commonly found in all foods and that this entire thing had been blown way out of proportion.
But after reading the entire fifty page report directly from the subcommittee, reality set in.
These big baby food manufacturers are using ingredients that are tainted with heavy metals that are toxic to humans, especially to vulnerable populations like tiny babies – and the worst part is – they know it and still continue to sell these products to the public without even the slightest of warnings.
it is a very big deal
The reason why I wanted to write this post is because the majority of parents probably saw the headlines a few weeks ago and brushed it off as “not a big deal, it's just a little bit of heavy metals found in all foods” but the truth is, IT IS A BIG DEAL – these manufacturers are using enzymes, preservatives, flavor enhancers and other ingredients that are adding to the overall toxic load of their finished products. These finished products are then being sold to millions and millions of unknowing parents who are then feeding these foods to their tiny babies EVERY SINGLE DAY.
but don't all foods have heavy metals?
The issue isn't whether or not heavy metals are present, because it's inevitable that they are.
The issue is HOW MUCH is present, and WHAT is being done by these companies and by the FDA to REDUCE the overall toxic load present in our babies' foods.
When we are informed we can make better choices.
And when we make better choices we vote with our dollars.
And when we vote with our dollars we force these big corporations to do a better job – because they can.
If we remain silent and complacent they will just continue doing what they are doing, which is nothing except selling these tainted products to parents who have put all of their trust on them.
We need to set a higher standard – if not for our own babies – then for who?
Parents need to be informed.
These companies need to do better.
And the FDA needs to regulate baby food.
Here are the facts:
Arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are heavy metals that even in small amounts can be toxic to the human body, especially vulnerable small bodies like those of infants and babies. A grown adult can tolerate toxic heavy metals and detoxify much better than a small tiny baby can.
The FDA and the World Health Organization have declared these heavy metals as dangerous and toxic – it is believed that even small amounts can have potential neurological damage.
After receiving several reports back in 2019 about heavy metals being found in baby food, the subcommittee requested internal documents from 7 of the biggest baby food manufacturers.
From those seven, four responded and turned in their internal docs.
After reviewing these documents, this is what the subcommittee found:
All 4 baby food companies had heavy metals detected in their sold baby food. However, this is an expected finding. These heavy metals are naturally found in the soil, water, and air in low levels. Unfortunately there is also contamination from fracking, coal-fired power plants, heavy metal containing pesticides, arsenic-treated lumber and more.
The truth is we live in a toxic world and our soil has been contaminated with heavy metals. It is not uncommon for food to have heavy metal contamination because of the soil it is grown on.
The question becomes how much is in the food, and what can be done to minimize exposure.
And right now the answer to that is NOTHING - nothing is being done by these big baby food manufacturers and nothing is being done by the FDA - which is shameful.
currently, there is no enforceable FDA regulation or standard for heavy metals in baby food
The only standard set for baby food by the FDA is for arsenic in infant rice cereal at 100ppb that was recently put into place back in 2020.
There are also heavy metal standards on water and apple juice.
Notice how it is specific to APPLE juice though. These big manufacturers go around this limit by using other types of juices instead – like grape juice – which has no regulation but most likely still contains heavy metals.
Baby food companies set their own internal limits but there is no enforceable regulation.
For example, one company (Happy Baby) has an internal standard of 115ppb of arsenic for their products although the FDA's standard is 100ppb.
Not only are their internal standards higher than recommended, but they regularly exceed them and sold those products to the public as stated in the internal documents reviewed by the subcommittee.
When questioned as to why they still sold baby food that surpassed their own internal limits, they stated that their own toxic heavy metal testing is not for the purpose of “consumer safety”.
This same baby food company released products to the public that contained as much as 641ppb of lead and 180ppb of inorganic arsenic.
To put these numbers into perspective:
The FDA only allows 100ppb of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal (which some argue is way way too high as it is) and 10ppb of inorganic arsenic in drinking water and fruit juice.
The FDA only allows 5ppb of lead in bottled water, 50ppb in juice and 100ppb in candy, yet this baby food sold with 641ppb of lead!!!
homemade baby food vs store bought
While it is true that foods made at home are also contaminated, the problem is that baby food manufacturers are also using additives, enzymes, preservatives and certain ingredients that are highly contaminated with heavy metals in addition to the food that is already contaminated, thus adding to the overall load of heavy metals present in the finished product.
While some will argue that food made at home also has heavy metal contamination, and they are not wrong about this, the food we make at home does NOT have these additives, enzymes and preservatives added to them therefore the final quantity of heavy metals present in homemade food is less than these manufactured finished products.
One brand used an additive ingredient that tested with as much as 913.4ppb of inorganic arsenic! Again, for reference, the FDA only allows 100ppb of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal - yet this ingredient highly surpassed that limit.
Vitamin Mineral Pre-Mix and BAN800 are two popular additives that routinely contain excessively high levels of heavy metals, yet they are still being used routinely in baby foods.
In one baby food brand, Vitamin Mineral Pre Mix ingredient tested as high as 352ppb of lead.
LEAD, one of the most toxic heavy metals out there. LEAD, which we eliminated from paint because we found it to be highly toxic if ingested.
LEAD, which the FDA has acknowledged that it can be hazardous even in low-chronic level exposure because of its ability to accumulate in the body.
Yet, in our babies foods, we allow this level of lead. This is shameful.
most companies only test individual ingredients vs finished products
Most companies have policies in place to only test individual ingredients, and not the finished baby food product.
The problem with this is that it is misleading because although each individual ingredient may show a low heavy metal quantity, when all ingredients are put together into the final product – the final cumulative amount of toxic heavy metals may be, and usually is, much much higher.
This small excerpt is copied directly from the subcommittees report:
Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) revealed to FDA that its policy to test only its ingredients, and not its final product, is underrepresenting the levels of toxic heavy metals in its baby foods. Unfortunately, Hain is not alone. The majority of baby food manufacturers, including BeechNut and Gerber, employ the same policy of testing only ingredients.
Testing only ingredients makes it seem that there is lower levels of heavy metals than there actually is in the finished product.
Ingredient A only has 100ppb of inorganic arsenic
Ingredient B only has 80ppn of inorganic arsenic
and Ingredient C has 100ppb of inorganic arsenic.
By testing ingredients alone, they each meet the 100ppb of inorganic arsenic standard.
However, when you add ingredients A, B and C to create the FINAL product, it now has 280ppb of inorganic arsenic.
Baby food companies NEED to test FINISHED PRODUCTS. That has to be the standard.
The issue isn't whether or not there are heavy metals in baby food, but rather, how MUCH is in the baby food, and what can be done to MINIMIZE this amount.
These big manufacturers, whom we trust with our babies lives should be doing everything in their power to create baby food with the LEAST amount of heavy metal contamination possible – whether that means to use different ingredients that are lower in heavy metals and/or test every ingredient and toss out those which test really high, and also test final products.
But instead, there is currently no law or mandate that requires these big companies to do that. Instead, these companies have “internal limits” for their own research purposes and “not for the public safety”, and they routinely sell baby food that tests way higher than their own internal limits.
as parents, what can you do now:
First things first, let go of the guilt.
You cannot blame yourself for something that was beyond your control. As parents, we put our trust in these big companies and in the government to do what is right and sell safe food.
There is no point in blaming yourself or feeling guilt or shame.
One thing I always tell myself is WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, YOU DO BETTER.
You did what you thought was right at the time, now you know better and can try to do better.
Other things you can do:
1. Increase the amount of HOMEMADE baby food whenever possible.
2. Do your research and choose brands that routinely test FINISHED baby food products. You can also look for baby food brands that have been designated with the CLEAN LABEL PURITY AWARD. This designation means that the brand takes extra steps in minimizing toxins and impurities compared to other brands in the same category. Some great baby food brands I currently trust include: Serenity Kids, Once Upon A Farm, and Little Spoons.
3. Variety, variety, variety. Root vegetables usually contain more heavy metals because their grown directly IN the soil. Offer different fruits and veggies and space out root veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots and leafy vegetables like spinach.
4. Avoid anything with rice or rice flour. Rice was one of the ingredients with highest arsenic levels. Babies do not need rice. You can give quinoa or amaranth. Talk to your doctor about alternatives – but rice is not necessary and is really high in arsenic. If you want to give rice – opt to make the rice at home so that you can soak it which reduces the amount of arsenic.
5. Vote with your dollar. Demand that these companies do better. These are our babies lives we are talking about. These companies have the power to make better food and they should. If you are in the position to choose the more expensive baby food brands over these brands named on this report - I encourage you to support those other brands instead. I understand not everyone can do that but those who can should so that these bigger manufacturers are forced to do better!