Manufacturers of baby food in the US knowingly sold baby food that contained high levels of supposedly toxic heavy metals, according to a Congressional investigation.
The investigation has called for new standards and testing requirements.
The Congressional panel examined products made by Nurture, Hain Celestial Group, Beech-Nut Nutrition and Gerber, a unit of Nestle.
The report said internal company standards “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.”
The report urges US regulators to set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods and require manufacturers to test finished products for heavy metals, not just ingredients.
Baby food companies said they were working to reduce levels of metals that occur naturally in food products.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet set minimum levels for heavy metals in most infant food but the current investigation claims that levels of metals in baby foods are nonetheless too high.
“Dangerous levels of toxic metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury exist in baby foods at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are permissible,” said Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which conducted the investigation.
Krishnamoorthi claimed the spreadsheets provided by manufacturers are “shocking” because they show evidence that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals.
As natural elements, they are in the soil in which crops are grown and thus can’t be avoided. Some crop fields and regions, however, contain more toxic levels than others partly due to the overuse of metal-containing pesticides and ongoing industrial pollution.
High levels of these heavy metals have previously been linked to cancer.
The FDA has set a level of 100 parts per billion in organic arsenic for infant rice cereal. A spokesman said the agency is currently reviewing the report.
Happy Family Organics said it was “disappointed at the many inaccuracies, select data usage and tone bias in this report. We can say with the utmost confidence that all Happy Family Organics products are safe for babies and toddlers to enjoy.” It added it welcomes “additional guidelines from the FDA.”
Hain Celestial said the “report examined outdated data and does not reflect our current practices” and added that it “inaccurately characterized a meeting with the FDA.”
Hain added since then it “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.”
Gerber said the elements in question occur naturally in the soil and water in which crops are grown and added it takes multiple steps “to minimize their presence.”
Beech-Nut Nutrition said it was reviewing the report and is working with other companies “on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry.”