A congressional report exposing four baby food companies for allowing dangerous concentrations of heavy metals in their products was made public in the winter of 2021. Understandably, parents nationwide were outraged and distraught. The investigators found 91 times more arsenic, 69 times more cadmium, and 177 times more lead than is safe in the raw ingredients of the manufacturers.
Seven baby food companies were initially asked to participate in this investigation by sharing their internal documents and test results. The refusal of Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell was a severe cause for concern for the investigators, as it may suggest the products of these manufacturers could have even greater toxic metal concentrations.
These are some of the most alarming and eye-opening findings of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which led the investigation:
Beech-Nut, a baby food manufacturer with a rich history, let products with up to 913 ppb arsenic go on the market when the safe exposure limit is only 10 ppb
Hain Celestial Group, which sells baby food under the brand Earth’s Best Organic, used raw ingredients with 260 ppb cadmium when the safe exposure limit is just 5 ppb
Nurture, which manufactures baby food under the brand name HappyBABY, allowed products with 641 ppb lead to go on the shelves when the safe exposure limit is also 5 ppb
The FDA recently analyzed 384 baby food samples, of which 51% had a detectable arsenic level. The highest arsenic concentrations were found in puffed snacks, infant cereals, and teething biscuits. Moreover, the agency discovered cadmium in 65% of the baby food tested and lead in 21% of the products. Baby food had greater arsenic and lead concentrations than regular food.
Children fed mostly commercial baby food during their first years are at high risk of developing autism, as heavy metals are neurotoxins. Furthermore, infants and toddlers who ingest these products may struggle with other neurodevelopmental problems, such as cognitive damage, a lower IQ, behavioral abnormalities, ADHD, learning disabilities, and speech impairment.
How Can Exposure to Heavy Metals from Baby Food Cause Autism
Neurotoxins are substances that can wreak havoc on the nervous system, particularly the brain. The heavy metals in baby food act as neurotoxins once inside the body. Children are significantly more vulnerable to the health impact of toxic metals than adults. This is because they have a greater nutrient uptake by the gastrointestinal tract and underdeveloped detoxification systems, which makes it difficult for their bodies to eliminate heavy metals. The higher the blood concentration of toxic metals a child has, the higher their likelihood of developing autism becomes.
Over time, heavy metals accumulate in the cerebral matter, as they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, whose purpose is to control the molecules that are transported in and out of the brain. The presence of heavy metals in the body generates free radicals, which, in turn, create oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is a severe imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, and it may damage cells, DNA, and proteins. Most children with autism have a chronic flaw in the body’s natural defenses against free radicals.
Recently, the autism rate has increased to 2%, meaning that 1 in 44 children born after 2010 will develop the disorder. Over half of American children have detectable lead concentrations in their blood. Lead is one of the most toxic metals, as even in trace amounts, it can irreversibly affect brain development and function. Innovative diagnostic tools have undoubtedly led to a higher autism rate, as many children were undiagnosed before. However, the existence of heavy metals and pesticides in baby food may also be a contributing factor to the prevalence of autism.
4 Practical Ways to Minimize the Content of Toxic Metals in Your Child’s Diet
Unfortunately, heavy metals will continue to lurk in most baby food on the market for a while, as the FDA is very slow in taking action to solve this urgent problem. Thankfully, you can lower the content of toxic metals in the food you give your child to a great extent by using the following tips.
1. Use Natural Alternatives Instead of Commercial Baby Food Whenever Possible
These clever ways of reducing the heavy metal concentration in your child’s diet come from the study “What’s in My Baby Food?” by the non-profit organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures. It found that 95% of the baby food contains at least one heavy metal. You will have to:
- Replace rice snacks with rice-free snacks to reduce the toxic metal content by 93%
- Replace fruit juice with tap water to lower the heavy metal content by 68%
- Replace teething biscuits with a chilled banana to lower the toxic metal content by 91%
- Replace sweet potatoes with a variety of produce to reduce the heavy metal content by 73%
2. Breastfeed for as Long as Possible If You Are a New Mom
While 80% of mothers in the U.S. breastfeed their newborns, very few continue to do it for one year or longer, as pediatricians advise. Not only will breastfeeding delay your child’s need for baby food, but it will also benefit your newborn in many ways. Breastfeeding implies a lower risk of asthma, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, lung infections, stomach bugs, and ear infections for the baby.
Mothers who breastfeed will also reap the benefits of this natural act, as they will have a reduced likelihood of developing breast cancer, high blood pressure, and ovarian cancer. Therefore, if possible, breastfeed your child for 2 years or longer.
3. Feed Your Baby Rice Just Occasionally
Rice crops absorb 20 times more arsenic than other crops, so it is best to give your child rice only sparingly. When you prepare it for your baby or toddler, you should rinse and cook it in plenty of water, which you should drain off when the meal is ready. Basmati rice and sushi rice are better alternatives, as they usually contain less arsenic.
4. Choose the Fish You Give Your Toddler Carefully
Some fish contain high mercury concentrations, so you should be very careful when picking out the fish you feed your child. The best options include anchovies, salmon, flounder, pollock, mullet, plaice, catfish, and haddock. On the flip side, you should avoid swordfish, fresh tuna, marlin, king mackerel, northern pike, and tilefish.
Are you still unsure about what to feed your baby? By virtue of the Toxic Baby Food Replacement Initiative, you can now request products manufactured by ethical companies that regularly test for heavy metals and other harmful contaminants. To receive the products you need, you must fill out the form at the bottom of the page.
About the Author
Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. With toxic exposure as their main practice area, the attorneys at the law firm offer assistance to parents whose children developed autism due to having been fed products with heavy metals. The responsibilities of Jonathan Sharp include financial analysis and case evaluation.