Consumer Alert: Congressional Report finds high levels of heavy metals in baby food. Here’s how to protect your baby.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A new report by a congressional subcommittee studying the heavy levels in baby food found that not only are the levels often alarmingly high, the FDA is moving too slowly to protect consumers.

While heavy metals naturally occur in the air and water, the excessively high levels in baby food usually occur because of pollution that has leached into the soil and drained into streams and rivers. It found levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury in baby food that far exceeded the FDA limits for bottled water.

Their findings echo the results of independent testing by Consumer Reports in 2018.

Heavy metals are especially dangerous for young children because their brains are still developing. And we know that exposure to heavy metals in early childhood can lower your child’s IQ, cause ADHD, as well as a host of behavioral problems. In short, we really are what we eat. And what your baby eats now can affect him or her for the rest of their life.

And while the FDA sets limits for the heavy metals in bottled water, it has no limits for the food we feed the most vulnerable among us, our babies. The FDA agrees that there needs to be limits, but this new report finds the FDA is moving far too slowly.

Here’s an example. FDA leaders say the agency is close to finalizing limits for the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice, but it has taken eight years to reach this point. The FDA proposed limits for apple juice in 2013. Members of the congressional subcommittee studying this issue say that’s too long.

You may remember earlier this year, the subcommittee asked seven baby food companies for their internal testing results of heavy metals. Three did not comply, Walmart, Sprouts and Plum Organics. But the subcommittee was able to get its hands on some internal information from those companies and released it Wednesday.

Here are some of the findings:

  • More than half of Plum Organic’s baby food has lead levels higher than that allowed in bottled water.
  • 40% of Plum Organic’s products have high levels of cadmium.
  • Walmart reduced its internal limit for arsenic in rice cereal in 2012 but reversed course in 2018. The report calls that "a drastic retreat in safety standards.”
  • Walmart doesn’t test the ingredients in its baby food at all, instead, it relies on its suppliers to do it themselves and tell the truth.
  • Sprout only tests once a year. Compare that Beech-Nut that tested its ingredients more than 1,700 times over a three-year period.

But the report finds even that’s not enough because none of the companies tests for heavy levels in the finished products. Testing just the ingredients leads to underreporting. But we, as parents, should not panic. We have a lot of power here.

Consumer Reports found about a third of baby foods tested had low levels of heavy metals. Those are the products that deserve our hard-earned money. Caregivers can limit their child’s exposure by limiting the rice products, sweet potato, grape and apple juice that babies consume. Here’s Deanna’s Do List for limiting the heavy metals in your baby’s diet:

  • Don’t eliminate root vegetables completely, but limit them. Rotate them with other veggies your baby likes.
  • Limit or eliminate rice-based products. Rice is grown in flooded fields, and rice absorbs about 10 times more arsenic from water than other plants.
  • Instead of rice-based cereal try oatmeal.
  • Instead of rice-based teething biscuits, try frozen banana slices.
  • Limit fruit juice. Independent testing by non-profit groups including Consumer Reports found high levels of heavy metals.

Also, Consumer Reports has published a guide for caregivers that provides helpful information about baby foods, the levels of heavy metals, and recommendations for consumption.