Store-bought baby food is a staple for a lot of busy parents, but new data from Consumer Reports has everyone talking about what's in those jars, along with the purees.
According to Consumer Reports, which tested 50 popular ready-made baby food products for heavy metals, "every product had measurable levels" of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead.
The headlines may seem shocking, but we all actually ingest arsenic in some form, because, as the FDA explains, it's naturally found in soil and water and absorbed by plants. That's why many foods, including grains (especially rice) and fruits and vegetables contain arsenic. It's also why many snack-type foods like bars, cookies, crackers, crisps, puffs, and rice rusks tested particularly high for heavy metals "generally because of their rice content," Consumer Reports notes.
As FDA spokesperson Peter Cassell said when the results of a similar study was released last year by the Clean Label Project, "it is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food."
Just because heavy metals are detectable in baby foods doesn't mean our children are going to get sick, but manufacturers should be aiming for the lowest level of heavy metals possible. Consumer Reports did find that 16 of the products tested has such low levels of contamination that daily servings should not be limited. This suggests "that all baby food manufacturers should be able to achieve similar results," notes Consumer Reports.
Gerber's Lil' Entrées Chicken & Brown Rice With Peas & Corn, Beech-Nut Organic Peas, Green Beans, and Avocado pouch, Gerber Graduates Puffs Strawberry Apple Cereal Snack and Happy Baby Organics Purple Carrots, Bananas, Avocados & Quinoa pouch were among the baby foods that can be served multiple times per day without concern over heavy metals, according to Consumer Reports.
However, about 68% of the products tested didn't just have measurable levels of heavy metals, but worrisome levels, and 15 of the foods could pose potential health risks to children who eat just one serving per day, so Consumer Reports suggests parents limit kids' intake to half a serving.
For example, "all the samples of Beech-Nut Classics Sweet Potatoes, Earth's Best Organic Sweet Potatoes, and Gerber Turkey & Rice had concerning levels of lead," Consumer Reports notes.
Here's what parents need to know:
Most of the products tested are from the two largest baby food manufacturers in the U.S., Beech-Nut and Gerber. Baby Mum-Mum, Earth's Best, Ella's Kitchen, Happy Baby, Parent's Choice (Walmart's store brand), Plum Organics, and Sprout were also tested.
According to Dickerson, eating these baby foods doesn't mean a child will get sick, but it may increase their risk for health problems. Genetics and exposure to heavy metals from other sources (like lead paint or contaminated water) also play a role.
The companies producing the baby food tested (including including Sprout, Gerber, Beech Nut, Baby Mum Mum, Parent's Choice, Happy Baby and Plum Organics) responded to either Consumer Reports, Good Morning America or both, stressing the importance of safety, supporting the guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and some did note that that heavy metals can be naturally occurring.
Sign the petition
Consumer Reports is calling for government action on this issue and has set up a petition for parents to sign, asking the FDA to set a goal of having "no measurable amounts of cadmium, lead, or inorganic arsenic in baby and children's food and "limit inorganic arsenic" in certain foods by the end of this year.