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OPINION

What's in your baby's food? Probably dangerous heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury.

We assume that companies that make baby foods and baby products want the best for our children. Their own data proves those assumptions wrong.

Raja Krishnamoorthi
Opinion contributor

We assume that anything with “baby” on the label must be safe, gentle and wholesome. Surely companies making baby foods would not knowingly sell products with dangerous levels of toxins, right? The Food and Drug Administration must be checking? 

Unfortunately, those assumptions are wrong.

Over the last year, I have been investigating baby food safety by looking at the test results possessed by the manufacturers themselves. What I learned was alarming.

Common baby foods found in grocery stores — made by trusted brands such as HappyBABY (Nurture, Inc.), Earth’s Best Organic (Hain Celestial Group, Inc.), Beech-Nut, and Gerber — contain dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

Heavy metals in baby food

Toxic heavy metals are exceptionally harmful to babies’ brains. Exposure can lead to long-term brain damage, causing decreased academic achievement, lost IQ points, learning disabilities, and behavioral disabilities. Babies’ developing brains are at a much higher risk than adults, since babies are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more of the heavy metals than adults. The heavy metals accumulate in the body, which means that the more a baby eats tainted baby food, the worse the negative impact on their brain development. 

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Right now, there are very few federal standards limiting the amount of heavy metals in baby food, and there is no requirement for the companies to tell us how much their products contain. But we do know that many baby foods contain much higher levels of heavy metals than products for which federal standards exist. Bottled water, for instance, may contain no more than 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic. In just one disturbing example that I found, apple and broccoli puffs were sold with a lead content of 180 parts per billion. Remember, the company’s own testing proved it.

2. Baby food     • Price increase, Jan. 2020 - Feb. 2020:  3.68% The price of baby food increased by 3.68% in February compared to January -- one of the highest price increases among all groceries. Over the past decade, baby food has increased in price by 22.5%, well above the increase of 19.3% across all items during that time.

In the absence of rules, baby food makers have made up their own proprietary standards. But the companies set them dangerously high, often at or above 100 parts per billion of the dangerous metals. And even then, my investigation found that the companies ignore them. If their product contains higher levels of toxic heavy metals than their proprietary standards allow, they sell them anyway. The manufacturer of HappyBABY explained to me that their testing is only intended to monitor their suppliers, not to protect babies.  So, “all of the products that were tested were sold into commerce.”

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Parents who seek out organic options for their babies will also be disappointed to learn that organic baby foods are just as dangerous as conventional foods in terms of heavy metal content in their foods. 

What else is there to hide?

As concerning as all of this is, there are three companies that could be even worse. Walmart (seller of Parent’s Choice), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell (seller of Plum Organics) refused to provide their testing results as part of our congressional investigation. Our investigative body is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might obscure the presence of even higher levels of heavy metals in their baby foods, compared to their competitors’ products. Parents beware.

As chairman of the House Oversight Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee, I have investigated my share of bad acts by corporations. I find none more disconcerting than companies that make profits by putting our children’s health at risk. 

I uncovered that e-cigarette maker, JUUL, was targeting kids as young as eight years old by sponsoring their summer camps. I discovered that the manufacturers of booster seats were falsely advertising their products for children too small to safely use them, putting them at risk of serious injury. However, the bad behavior of baby food manufacturers may take the cake. 

Parents confront many unavoidable worries, but the safety of the baby food they give their children should not be one of them. I hope that HappyBABY, Earth’s Best Organic, Beech-Nut, Gerber, Walmart (seller of Parent’s Choice), Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell (seller of Plum Organics) take this opportunity to make their products safer. Just in case they dither, I will introduce legislation that will require them to make their products safe.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., is chair of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, housed under the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.