Last updated on February 9th, 2021 at 10:00 am
They knew it. And they still sold it to unsuspecting, young mothers.
That is the message being sent to Americans today, following a US Congressional investigation into toxins found in baby food.
A Staff Report released this week from a Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy found that seven of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States knowingly placed products on grocery shelves that had high and dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, and other heavy metals. In fact, the levels found in these baby food products are far higher than those allowed in products like bottled water.
While the report puts conventional baby food companies like Gerber, Beech-Nut, and Parent’s Choice (a private brand of Walmart) under the microscope, it also reveals that companies which identify as “organic” – like Earth’s Best Organic, Happily Family Organics, Plum Organics (a subsidiary of Campbell’s) and Sprout Organic Foods – are also guilty of exposing children to heavy metals in food which can lead to behavioural impairments, brain damage, and even death.
The Congressional report comes some 15 months after an initial investigation commissioned by a group of scientists, non-profit organizations, and donors under the banner of “Healthy Babies Bright Futures“. The tests were commissioned in the hopes of reducing exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first months of life.
The findings by “Healthy Babies Bright Futures” revealed toxic heavy metals in 95 percent of the 168 containers tested. Equally shocking is that one in four baby food jars contained all four metals of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.
Tracey Woodruff, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s program on reproductive health and the environment says movement on this front is long overdue. “This is an endemic problem that’s been swept under the rug and never addressed. It speaks to the many areas that we need government to be active in. Consumers can’t figure it out on their own.”
Spurred on by the “Healthy Babies Bright Futures” findings, Congressional Investigators reached out to the companies in question. Nurture (Happy Family Organics), Beech-Nut, Hain (Earth’s Best Organic), and Gerber responded to the Subcommittee’s requests by providing company testing policies, test results, and documentation on what they did with products that exceeded company limits. Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods refused to respond to the Subcommittee’s requests. The report went on to state that the “Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products”.
US Food Drug Administration has yet to set a minimum level of heavy metals in baby food
While the FDA has set a standard of 100 parts per billion inorganic arsenic for infant rice snacks and cereals, “Healthy Babies Bright Futures” national director of science and health Jane Houlihan says even that level is too high. “Their brain is forming rapidly, and so when they’re exposed to metals that can interrupt those natural processes, the impacts range from behavioral problems to aggression to IQ loss and all kinds of cognitive and behavioral deficits that can persist throughout life,. Pound for pound, babies get the highest dose of these heavy metals compared to other parts of the population… so the consequences are serious.” Comparatively, the arsenic standard of bottled water is 10 parts per billion.
An important distinction should be made with regard to organic and inorganic arsenic, especially since the latter is dealt with explicitly in the Congressional Investigation Report.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Director of McGill University’s “Office for Science and Society”, explains that arsenic atoms can combine with atoms of other elements to form a variety of compounds. In an “organic” arsenic compound, the arsenic atom is attached to a carbon, rendering it more complicated in structure and thus harmless. “Inorganic” arsenic compounds, meanwhile, are generally simple molecules with an absence of carbon. These compounds are highly toxic.