Posted on January 25th, 2022
There are currently no rules on acceptable concentrations of heavy metals in baby food in the U.S. For many years, Congress has been striving to pass legislation imposing limits on arsenic and lead in fruit juice and rice products but failed. However, a beacon of hope might be the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021.
By now, it is no secret that heavy metals are contaminating up to 95% of the infant and toddler food on the market. To effectively tackle the problem of cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury in baby food, Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, scientists, the food industry, and medical experts should unite, as the issue concerns our most vulnerable population.
While finding out that the food that was supposed to be nutritious for your child is contaminated with toxic metals can understandably be shocking, this is actually not a reason to panic. According to specialists, low concentrations of exposure for short periods are unlikely to result in devastating effects. If parents have timely received the bad news, they should focus on minimizing the level of toxic metals in their children's diet to reduce harm.
Oftentimes, the first solid food babies are fed is rice cereal. It is a childhood staple, which is commonly recommended by pediatricians. Nevertheless, it is oftentimes poisoned, too, at least a little bit. Numerous reputable studies found that many brands of rice cereal have measurable amounts of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic kind. Thankfully, cereal manufacturers are capable of keeping baby food free of heavy metals, as roughly a third of the products Consumer Reports tested did not contain alarming toxic metal concentrations.
Sadly, companies do not take enough safety steps, placing comfort and financial profit over the wellbeing of children. "If the industry can do a better job of sourcing the raw food, that would go a long way to reduce the danger. And then if manufacturers consider contamination through internal pathways-equipment, processes, and the containers they use for the food-I think we can get there," says James Dickerson, Chief Scientific Officer at Consumer Reports. Some companies are already investigating the sources of contamination in their baby food and working to reduce the concentrations of heavy metals. More should follow their example and be transparent about these efforts.
Heavy metals occur naturally and are present in soil and water. Nonetheless, pesticides, mining, and pollution boost their concentration, and farming and food manufacturing processes can contribute to it even more. Some crops absorb more heavy metals than others. Rice, for instance, takes in arsenic both because of its specific physiology and because it is usually grown in fields flooded with water, which is a primary source of this heavy metal.
Exposure to heavy metals from baby food can impair cognitive development in children, who are particularly at risk because of their tiny size and tendency to absorb more of these substances than adults. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water was found to lower the IQ scores of children by 5 to 6 points. Furthermore, as heavy metals accumulate in the body over the years, they can increase the risk of:
Shockingly, there are no rules on acceptable concentrations of heavy metals in baby foods at the moment in our country. In 2012, 2015, and 2017, Congress attempted but failed to pass legislation setting limits on lead and arsenic in fruit juice and rice products. The Food and Drug Administration proposed issuing new caps on the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice in 2013 and in rice cereal in 2016, but neither of those proposals came to fruition. A March 2018 Government Accountability Office report found that the agency has not moved quickly enough to finalize the rules or inform the public about the potential health risks.
A glimmer of hope, however, is the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, which was introduced by Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi. The bill proposes simple but effective actions, namely to set limits for the four heavy metals of concern as soon as possible, as follows:
Hopefully, this will not be just another failed bill that strived to make a difference for the most vulnerable demographic of our country and will eventually become law. The Baby Food Safety Act would also urge the Food and Drug Administration to get more involved in setting and checking the permissible heavy metal limits in baby food and would make it mandatory for baby food companies to make their internal test results for heavy metals public and accessible to everyone.