Congressional report finds toxic heavy metals in some baby food

U.S. congressional investigators found that some baby foods contained dangerous levels of heavy metals that could "endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function," according to a report released Thursday by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

Led by Democratic Chairman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the committee’s investigation found that top baby foods carried dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

"Baby food manufacturers hold a special position of public trust. But consumers mistakenly believe that these companies would not sell unsafe products. The Subcommittee’s staff report found that these manufacturers knowingly sell baby food containing high levels of toxic heavy metals," Krishnamoorthi wrote in a statement.

The panel requested internal documents and test results from seven of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States — Gerber, Nurture Inc, Hain Celestial Group Inc, Beech-Nut Nutrition, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart Inc. and Sprout Foods, Inc.

According to the report, Walmart, Campbell and Sprout Organic Foods "refused to cooperate" with the Subcommittee’s investigation.

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The investigation found significant levels of toxic heavy levels, which can cause "permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function," the report stated.

The report said that the results’ levels were multiple times higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products.

"For example, the Food and Drug Administration has set the maximum allowable levels in bottled water at 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb lead, and 5 ppb cadmium, and the Environmental Protection Agency has capped the allowable level of mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb. The test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipse those levels: including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level," the report read.

The report by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy found that some baby foods contained dangerous levels of heavy metals that could "endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function." (Photo: File / FOX Television Sta

The subcommittee’s investigation also alleged that manufacturers ignored internal standards and continued to sell products with higher heavy metals.

"The Subcommittee’s investigation revealed that manufacturers knowingly sell tainted baby food to unsuspecting parents, in spite of internal company test results showing high levels of toxic heavy metal, and without any warning labels whatsoever," added Chairman Krishnamoorthi. "I look forward to FDA’s careful regulation of these toxic heavy metals in baby foods, followed by strict compliance requirements and mandatory consumer labels."

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"The time is now for FDA to determine whether there is any safe exposure level for babies to inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, to require manufacturers to meet those levels, and to inform consumers through labels," the report continued.

And, while the report found toxin levels exceeding FDA’s allowable levels, it’s unclear whether these specific levels, while heightened, could have detrimental effects, if any, on a child’s health.

The FDA did not immediately respond to FOX TV Stations’ request for comment.

Beech-Nut Nutrition said in a statement "we want to reassure parents that Beech-Nut products are safe and nutritious." "We are currently reviewing the subcommittee report. We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA, in partnership with the Baby Food Council, on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry."

A spokesperson for Gerber said in an email to FOX Television Stations "The standards we have in place for the safety and quality of our baby foods are industry-leading, and among the strictest in not just the U.S., but the world. We meet or exceed all existing government requirements, and where they don’t currently exist, we have established our own high standards based on the latest food safety guidance."

"Heavy metals occur naturally in the soil and water in which crops are grown. As stated in our 2019 response to the Congressional Inquiry, we take many steps to minimize their presence, including: prioritizing growing locations based on climate and soil composition; approving fields before crops are planted based on soil testing; rotating crops according to best available science; and testing of produce, water and other ingredients. Gerber foods receive thorough oversight at all levels of the growing and the production process," the spokesperson added. 

Walmart responded to the congressional report saying the company is also committed to providing a safe product to its customers. 

"We provided information to the subcommittee nearly a year ago and invited more dialogue on this important issue but never received any additional inquiries. Any product testing would be managed by our suppliers, which is why we described the certification requirements for our private label manufacturers and explained that our private label baby food manufacturers must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including those set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration," The company said in an email. 

"In addition, our private label product suppliers must meet our own internal finished goods specifications, which for baby and toddler food means the levels must meet or fall below the limits established by the FDA. Healthy Babies Bright Futures also published "What’s in my baby’s food," in October of 2019 that tested seven Walmart private label products and according to their reported results, the metals tested were within FDA guidance levels. We will review the report now that it is available."

Campbell Soup Company responded in a press release, stating that the company "never refused anything requested" of them and assured the public that their products "are safe."

"Heavy metals are present throughout the environment, including soil and water. Whether you are growing your own produce in your backyard, buying fresh produce from a farmer’s market or purchasing a product from your favorite retailer, these substances will be present in the food to some extent. Campbell is committed to minimizing environmental contaminants including heavy metals within our products, and we will work with anyone to help establish federal standards to ensure that babies get the food they need to support healthy growth in their early years," Campbell wrote.

Happy Family Organics (Nurture Inc.) also released a statement defending their products’ safety.

"We can say with the utmost confidence that all Happy Family Organics products are safe for babies and toddlers to enjoy and we are proud to have best-in-class testing protocols in our industry. We only sell products that have been rigorously tested and we do not have products in-market with contaminant ranges outside of the limits set by the FDA," Happy Family Organics wrote.

"We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of implementing strict quality standards in providing nutritious offerings for families. The safety, health and wellness of our little ones is, and has always been, an intrinsic part of our DNA."

Hain Celestial Group Inc. wrote in response that it was "disappointed" in the subcommittee’s report and that the data "does not reflect" their current practices.

"The report also inaccurately characterized a meeting with the FDA. Like any food producer, we meet with regulatory and oversight agencies to refine and update our policies and procedures to ensure the safety of our products. As science evolves, so too should our standards and practices, which is why we met with the FDA last year to discuss how to better refine those standards and practices," Hair Celestial Group Inc. wrote.

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"Following the meeting, we took several steps to reduce the levels of heavy metals in our finished products – including no longer using brown rice in our products that are primarily rice based, changing other ingredients and conducting additional testing of finished product before shipping. Meeting with the FDA did what the regulatory process is supposed to: collaboratively drive improvements that benefit the consumer."

 A similar investigation in 2019 found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contained one or more toxic chemicals.

The report, commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, stated that tests were conducted of 168 baby foods from major food brands in the U.S. The investigation found that 95 percent were contaminated with one or more of four toxic heavy metals — arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

Gerber, Beech-nut and Walmart did not immediately respond to FOX TV Stations’ request for comment.