The Moms Clean Air Force mission statement says: “Moms have passion and power—an unbeatable combination. Moms will do everything we can to keep our children safe and sound.”
From Covid to climate change, Moms have a toy box full of things to worry about to keep their kids safe. New moms can now toss another disturbing item into the box: tainted baby food.
On February 4, 2021, a congressional subcommittee investigation was released that found “significant levels” of toxic heavy metals—lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury—in baby food. The report is titled: “Baby Foods are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury.”
According to the World Health Organization, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury are included in the top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children.
While these toxins don’t belong in anyone’s food, as heavy metals have been linked to cancer and disease, the presence in baby food is beyond frightening because of the developing brains of babies and young children.
Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Washington Post, “Exposure to these toxic heavy metals affects babies’ brain development and nervous system, it affects their behavior, permanently decreases their IQ and, if you want to boil it down to dollars, their lifetime earnings potential.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which conducted the investigation, said that the information the baby food manufacturers provided is “shocking.” The evidence showed that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals. “Yet we know that in a lot of cases, we should not have anything more than single digit parts per billion of any of these metals in any of our foods,” Krishnamoorthi reported to CNN.
Reading this as a new grandmother, I had a slew of questions that led me on a fact-finding mission:
How did this happen?
“This is an endemic problem that’s been swept under the rug and never addressed,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California in the New York Times.
According to the FDA, the agency sets limits for arsenic in rice cereal and limits for lead, arsenic, and cadmium in bottled water, juice, and candy. It does not set limits on heavy metals.
Krishnamoorthi accused the FDA of being “AWOL” under the Trump administration. The agency “completely put its head in the sand and [had] not done anything to regulate the industry.”
Why didn’t they know about it sooner?
Trump’s FDA did know and did nothing. In 2019, Healthy Babies Bright Futures created a report that found toxic metals in 95% of baby foods. Krishnamoorthi said this report was the “inspiration” to investigate further.
Which baby foods?
According to Axios:
- Gerber, the No. 1 baby food company in the US, “rarely tests for mercury.” Many of the company’s ingredients contained cadmium, lead, and high-arsenic products.
- Beech-Nut had “many ingredients with high lead content.” The company does not test for mercury.
- Hain Celestial makes Earth’s Best Organic foods, had high levels of arsenic and used “many ingredients with high lead content.”
- Nurture manufactures Happy Family Organics. It was found to have high levels of lead and arsenic in its baby food.
What can Congress do?
Krishnamoorthi is planning to introduce legislation to address the FDA’s oversight. He added, “Every maker of baby food … is on notice that we in Congress are not going to sit back and accept the status quo anymore.”
He also hoped the companies would voluntarily test their food more properly and phase out the problem. “But I’m also being realistic. We need legislation to compel compliance with standards that the FDA needs to develop.”
What can parents do?
- Limit rice and sweet potato baby food because both tend to absorb more pollutants.
- Avoid snacks like crackers and puffs, which Consumer Reports found had higher levels of heavy metals.
- Make your own baby food. The safest food comes from your garden or a local organic source.
- Demand that our government ensure the food our babies consume is safe before it hits the shelves.
This brings me back to the Moms Clean Air Force mission statement: “Sometimes, being a good mom means being an active citizen.”