The Danger of Heavy Metals in Baby Foods Environmental Health Health Safety
What a child eats in infancy — or doesn’t — strongly influences their future health. Good nutrition promotes proper development and reduces negative health outcomes. Commercially produced baby foods contain heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead are present in baby foods and pose a danger to infant health. A Consumer Reports study found that many popular baby food brands, including Beechnut Naturals, Gerber, and Baby Mum-Mum, contain high levels of heavy metals. Any level of heavy metals in baby food will harm infant health. More steps must be taken to reduce — or eliminate — heavy metal concentrations in baby food.
Long-term consumption of these heavy metals can cause a multitude of complications.
- Arsenic impacts children’s central nervous system and neurodevelopment and can lead to bronchiectasis, impaired liver function, cognitive deficits, skin conditions, and skin cancer.
- Lead can result in higher risk of stunted growth, delayed development and puberty, cognitive effects, and behavioral issues.
- Cadmium has been found to lead to lower IQ scores and higher prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Heavy metals may be naturally present in soil or can contaminate crops through run-off, polluted water sources, fertilizers, and insecticides. Fortified vitamins and minerals added during the manufacturing process can also lead to contamination of baby foods.
While heavy metals are also harmful to adults, they put infants and young children at higher risk of health consequences because of their lower body weight and weaker metabolism. Additionally, the accumulation of heavy metals is very harmful to children’s growing organ systems and bodies.
Experts and advocates have been sounding the alarm on heavy metals in baby food for years. In 2021, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released two reports on the presence of toxic metals in baby foods sold by popular baby food companies. These reports detailed poor testing protocol and negligence by baby food companies. A Bloomberg Law study found that all but one of 33 baby food products currently on the market contain heavy metals.
In response to this problem, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed the “Closer to Zero: Reducing Childhood Exposure to Contaminants from Foods” program and released draft guidance with action levels for lead present in food. However, the heavy metal limits proposed by these interventions are not legally enforceable.
To reduce heavy metals in baby foods, the Biden Administration should consider the following recommendations:
- Require farms to conduct soil testing and to use contaminated fields for crops that do not absorb metals.
- Require food companies to conduct testing of their ingredients and products and require food companies to enact a recall if testing reveals that their products surpass FDA limits.
While some progress has been made toward reducing the high levels of heavy metals in baby foods, the problem persists. Policymakers must take more steps to protect the health and development of children by ensuring that manufacturers reduce heavy metal concentrations in baby foods.