Minding your Peas and … Arsenic? Recent House Report Exposes Toxic Metals in Baby Foods

On February 4, 2021, the US House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy under the Committee on Oversight and Reform published an alarming report that some of the nation’s most popular baby food brands contain unusually high amounts of toxic metals –arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury – which exceed even the companies’ own internal standards.

These metals are found naturally in the soil, and as a result, end up in our produce because they absorb them in the soil as they grow. According to the report, even low levels of metal exposure can cause serious and often irreversible damage to infants, such as stunts to brain development and elevated risks of cancer.

Despite the harm that could be caused by toxic metals, they are virtually unregulated in baby foods. In fact, the only regulation setting a standard is for infant rice cereal – setting a maximum of 100-ppb (parts per billion) of inorganic arsenic. For comparison, the FDA standard for lead in bottled water is 5-ppb. The non-profit Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which issued a report in 2019 finding 95 percent of baby foods tested contained these toxic chemicals, supports regulations establishing limits closer to 3-ppb inorganic arsenic and 1-ppb lead.

Without regulations establishing the limits of toxic metals in baby food, manufacturers have been left to self-regulation. Unfortunately, according to the report, many aren’t testing for toxic metals, and those that do are selling products that exceed their own internal standards. Indeed, the test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipse their company’s standards for many products sold to unsuspecting parents: 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 of those companies’ internal “limits.”

Some of the recommendations the House report has sent to the FDA include:

  • Mandatory testing on finished baby food products
  • Required disclosure of metal contents on baby food labels
  • Maximum levels set for toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods
  • Recommendations so that parents and manufacturers receive information needed to make this safer.

The report also calls on manufacturers to voluntarily find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals or phase out products that do.

“Baby food manufacturers hold a special position of public trust. Consumers believe that they would not sell products that are unsafe. Consumers also believe that the federal government would not knowingly permit the sale of unsafe baby food,” the report states.

The presence of lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium in the food we feed our children can be scary and shocking. Our consumer protection lawyers have experience in making sure manufacturers making untruthful or misleading claims are held accountable.

Contact us at inquiries@fdpklaw.com if you want to find out if any of the products you use that claim to be “non-toxic” may be toxic actually are—whether a food, household cleaner, or any other product you use.

Posted by Erin Holliday, former FDPK Associate Attorney.