After a two-year investigation, Congress released a report in 2021 concerning the presence of toxic ingredients in various baby foods, including those produced by Gerber, Walmart, Beech-Nut, Nurture and Plum. The Congressional report follows a previous investigation in 2016 that examined contamination in baby food and found high levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. At that time, advocacy groups issued warnings to manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about excessive levels of toxins in baby food. However, the warnings were largely ignored and few changes were made to baby food products. Congress revisited the issue in 2021 as public awareness over the effects of toxins on neurological health increased. Thousands of consumers have alleged that their children developed autism and other neurological conditions after consuming baby foods with unsafe levels of heavy metals.
Research Concludes that Certain Baby Foods Contain High Levels of Heavy Metals
The Congressional report, entitled Baby Foods are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury ,was released in February 2021. According to the report, several baby foods exceeded safe levels of heavy metals, some at astonishingly high levels. The report found that baby foods have elevated levels of heavy metals compared to bottled water including:
- 91 times the level of arsenic;
- 177 times the level of lead;
- 69 times the level of cadmium; and
- 5 times the amount of mercury
The detectable levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury were also multiple times higher than the levels permitted under current regulations. The report urged the FDA to establish mandatory minimum allowable levels of toxic metals in baby food and to require companies to specify the quantity contained in its baby food.
Heavy Metals in Baby Food Linked to Adverse Neurological Conditions
The Congressional report concluded that exposure to heavy metals may affect neurological development and long-term brain health. Specifically, toxic metals can lead to permanent decreases in IQ, reduced future economic production, and a higher risk of criminal and antisocial conduct. Because an infant’s brain develops rapidly, infants are most susceptible to cognitive damage incurred through heavy metal exposure.
Company Standards Permitted Dangerously High Levels of Toxic Metals
Reports indicate that internal standards at some baby food companies permitted dangerously high levels of heavy metals in their foods. A sample of these internal limits includes the following:
- Nurture set its internal standard for heavy metals at a level 15% higher than the authorized limit set by the FDA.
- Beech-Nut set its internal standard for arsenic and calcium at 3,000 ppb for additives and for lead at 5,000 ppb for certain ingredients. The levels prescribed by Beech-Nut are the highest of any manufacturer included in the Congressional investigation.
- Hain (Earth’s Best) established an internal standard of 200 ppb for arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
The report also found that companies generally did not test finished products for the presence of heavy metals, which may contribute to underreported levels of toxins. In addition to underreporting toxin levels, baby food companies are accused of continuing to market their baby products despite being aware of toxicity levels.