(WAND) – Levels of arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals that can harm brain development were found in many popular baby foods, including organic brands. That is according to a congressional investigation.
A U.S. House Subcommittee said in a report released Thursday it requested internal data from seven companies, including Walmart, in 2019 after a nonprofit called Healthy Babies Bright Futures published results of testing it did on baby foods.
Four of the companies, Beech-Nut, Gerber, Earth’s Best Organics maker Hain Celestial and Happy Family Organics maker Nurture Inc., shared documents. The subcommittee said Walmart, Sprout Foods and Campbell Soup Co., which makes Plum Organics baby food, did not cooperate with the investigation.
Lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium are all metals the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers harmful to human health.
Those toxins can stay in the environment for decades from past herbicide and pesticide use.
Officials said toxic metals could be more common in baby foods, because of vitamins and minerals added during processing.
Rice is a common ingredient in baby foods that tends to have high levels of arsenic. That is because rice is grown in water, and arsenic from the soil dissolves when it comes in contact with water.
Since babies’ brains are still developing, there is concern over how those metals could impact development. By the time symptoms like behavioral problems show up, it can be hard to trace back to baby food.
Health officials recommends parents who are concerned should switch to unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The FDA also recommends feeding babies a variety of grain-based cereals, not just those made with rice.
Last August, the FDA finalized guidance for infant rice cereal, recommending it contain no more than 100 parts per billion of arsenic.
The subcommittee’s report said Beech-Nut used some ingredients that tested as high as 913 parts per billion for arsenic, while Earth’s Best Organics used ingredients testing as high as 309 parts per billion for arsenic.
The subcommittee, which is led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, said it wants the FDA to set standards for the presence of heavy metals in baby foods. It said manufacturers should be required to test finished products and publish the results.
The FDA said in a statement Thursday it takes exposure to toxic elements in the food supply very seriously.
“We acknowledge that there is more work to be done, but the FDA reiterates its strong commitment to continue to reduce consumer exposure to toxic elements and other contaminants,” the agency said.
Campbell Soup Co. said it did respond to the subcommittee’s questions.
Walmart also said it reached out to the subcommittee, but also said any product testing would be managed by its suppliers.
Happy Family Organics said it was disappointed in the report. It said the report did not make clear that metals and minerals are found in trace amounts in many foods. The company also said the test results it provided in 2019 do not reflect all of the current products.
Earth’s Best Organics also said the report referenced outdated data. The brand said it removed brown rice from its products, changed other ingredients and expanded testing of finished products after a meeting with the FDA last year. Beech-Nut assured parents its baby food is “safe and nutritious.”
A message seeking comment was left with Gerber.
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