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Most edible products for babies contain traces of toxic metals that can cause neurodevelopmental harm. A new report quantifies for the first time the impact of these chemicals on infants’ health.
The nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures has just released results of a new study on commercial infant food products revealing that 95% of 168 baby foods across 61 brands tested were found to contain detectable levels of toxic metals that can permanently affect infants’ neurologic development and behavior. The neurotoxins arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury occur naturally in all foods, but at least 3 of the chemicals were found in 40% of baby food samples tested, with 26% of products tested containing all 4 heavy metals.
The organization says its new report quantifies for the first time the impact of these heavy metals on infants’ health, giving estimates of the decline in intelligence quotient (IQ) points from exposure to lead and arsenic from birth to age 2 years. The report also names the 15 most common foods consumed by babies aged younger than 2 years that account for 55% of the risk to brain development, including apple and grape juice, oat ring cereal, macaroni and cheese, and puff snacks.
According to the report, lead was found in 94% of baby foods tested, cadmium in 75%, arsenic in 73%, and mercury in 32%. The study also included new data on the presence of the industrial chemical perchlorate in baby food, which adds to the IQ points loss posed by heavy metals. Perchlorate contamination was recorded in 19 of 25 baby foods tested, including infant formula. The chemical, commonly used in food packaging, disrupts thyroid functions critical to brain development.
Rice-based foods such as infant rice cereals, rice dishes, and rice snacks top the list for inorganic arsenic, which the study says accounts for 20% of the more than 11 million IQ points that children lose from birth to 24 months from all dietary sources.
The study also suggests simple actions that can lower babies’ exposures to heavy metals in their diet:
1. Substitute rice-free snacks for rice puff snacks.
2. Offer frozen banana or chilled cucumber slices for teething discomfort instead of teething biscuits.
3. Feed babies multigrain and oatmeal cereals in place of infant rice cereal.
4. Provide tap water instead of fruit juices.
5. Offer babies a variety of fruits and vegetables.
The problem with neurotoxin contamination of baby food surfaced 10 years ago, but new research has confirmed the continuing presence of the chemicals in all food products for babies. Children are more susceptible to such contaminants than are adults. Currently there are no limits for toxic heavy metals in baby food.
Healthy Babies Bright Futures has called upon the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take immediate action on its findings: “FDA should establish and finalize health-protective standards for heavy metals, prioritizing foods that offer the greatest opportunity to reduce exposure, considering additive effects of the multiple metals detected in foods, and explicitly protecting against neurodevelopmental impacts.”
In addition, the group says the FDA should implement “a proactive testing program for heavy metals in foods consumed by babies and toddlers, similar to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s program for children’s toys (CPSC 2019)” and also establish a health-based limit on the acceptable amount of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods.