September 22, 2021

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Some baby foods tainted with ‘dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals’, congressional report finds

A new investigation by the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy has found high levels of toxic metals in several organic and store brand baby foods manufactured by companies including Nurture Inc, Hain Celestial Group Inc, Beech-Nut Nutrition, Nestle-owned Gerber, Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell.

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According to the subcommittee’s findings released on Thursday, the varieties of baby food examined by the panel contained “dangerously high levels” of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

The report said that internal company standards “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.”

In addition, congressional investigators called on U.S. regulators to set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods and to require manufacturers to test finished products for heavy metals, not just ingredients.

Exposure to toxic heavy metals can endanger an infant’s neurological development and long-term brain function.

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The subcommittee noted that Nurture, Beech-Nut, Gerber and Hain all cooperated with the investigation, which found toxic heavy metal levels in their products that were “multiples higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products.”

Meanwhile, investigators claimed Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell refused to cooperate.

“The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might obscure the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products, compared to their competitors’ products,” the subcommittee wrote.

However, independent testing of Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell’s baby food confirmed that the companies’ products contained “concerning levels of toxic heavy metals.”

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The investigation found Nurture sold baby foods containing as much as 180 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic, 641 ppb of lead, and 10 ppb of mercury. Over 25% of the products Nurture tested before sale contained over 100 ppb of inorganic arsenic, and the company’s testing shows that the typical baby food product it sold contained 60 ppb inorganic arsenic. Almost 20% of the finished baby food products that Nurture tested contained over 10 ppb lead.

According to the report, Hain sold finished baby food products containing as much as 129 ppb inorganic arsenic. Hain’s ingredients tested as high as 309 ppb of arsenic and 352 ppb of lead, with at least 88 ingredients testing over 20 ppb of lead and six testing over 200 ppb of lead.

Hain’s ingredients also tested over 20 ppb of cadmium with some testing up to 260 ppb of cadmium. The report also noted Hain gave a secret industry presentation to federal regulators in August 2019 revealed that in 100% of Hain baby foods tested, inorganic arsenic levels were anywhere from 28 to 93 percent higher in the finished baby food than the company estimated they would be based on individual ingredient testing.

In addition, the investigation found that Beech-Nut ingredients tested as high as  913.4 ppb of arsenic and that the company routinely used high-arsenic additives that tested over 300 ppb arsenic to address product characteristics such as “crumb softness.” The ingredients also contained as much as 886.9 ppb of lead, with 483 ingredients containing over 5 ppb lead, 89 that contained over 15 ppb lead, and 57 that contained over 20 ppb lead. It also used 105 ingredients that tested over 20 ppb cadmium, with some testing up to 344.55 ppb cadmium.

Gerber also was found to use high-arsenic ingredients, including 67 batches of rice flour that had tested over 90 ppb inorganic arsenic. The company also used ingredients that tested as high as 48 ppb lead and used many ingredients containing over 20 ppb lead. About 75 percent of Gerber’s carrots contained cadmium in excess of 5 ppb, with some containing up to 87 ppb cadmium.

The investigation noted that Hain and Beech-Nut do not test for mercury in baby food, while Gerber rarely tests for mercury.

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Hain Celestial, the baby food market’s No.4. company which makes Earth’s Best said in a statement that it was “disappointed that the Subcommittee report examined outdated data and does not reflect our current practices” and that the report “inaccurately characterized a meeting with the FDA.”

“Like any food producer, we meet with regulatory and oversight agencies to refine and update our policies and procedures to ensure the safety of our products. As science evolves, so too should our standards and practices, which is why we met with the FDA last year to discuss how to better refine those standards and practices,” the company continued. “Following the meeting, we took several steps to reduce the levels of heavy metals in our finished products – including no longer using brown rice in our products that are primarily rice based, changing other ingredients and conducting additional testing of finished product before shipping. Meeting with the FDA did what the regulatory process is supposed to: collaboratively drive improvements that benefit the consumer.”

Hain added that its internal standards and testing procedures “ensure Earth’s Best products meet or exceed the current federal guidelines” and that it has “consistently supported efforts to reduce naturally occurring heavy metals from our food supply and stands ready to assist the Subcommittee’s efforts toward that goal.”

Representatives for Gerber, Nurture Inc., and Beech-Nut Nutrition did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment.

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A spokesperson for Walmart pushed back against claims that the company refused to cooperate, telling FOX Business in a statement that it provided information to the subcommittee nearly a year ago and “invited more dialogue on this important issue but never received any additional inquiries.”

“Any product testing would be managed by our suppliers, which is why we described the certification requirements for our private label manufacturers and explained that our private label baby food manufacturers must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including those set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” the spokesperson added. “In addition, our private label product suppliers must meet our own internal finished goods specifications, which for baby and toddler food means the levels must meet or fall below the limits established by the FDA.”

According to the retailer, an October 2019 report from Healthy Babies Bright Futures —  an alliance of nonprofit organizations, scientists and donors seeking to reduce babies’ exposures to toxic chemicals — called “What’s in my baby’s food,” tested seven Walmart private label products that were determined to have metals tested within FDA guidance levels.

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Also pushing back in a statement on its website is the Campbell Soup Company, which noted the it “responded quickly” to the subcommittee’s questions and “never refused anything requested of us.”

“We are surprised that the Committee would suggest that Campbell was less than full partners in this mission. We welcomed the opportunity to work with the Committee in 2019—and continue to do so today,” the statement added. “We want to assure our consumers, the Committee, and any other interested stakeholders that our products are safe.”

Campbell’s blamed the “unfortunate lack of a current FDA standard “for heavy metals in baby food and noted in a response to the FDA that its testing showed each product was “well within levels deemed acceptable by independent authorities.” The company also noted that the heavy metals are present in the environment including soil and water.

“Whether you are growing your own produce in your backyard, buying fresh produce from a farmer’s market or purchasing a product from your favorite retailer, these substances will be present in the food to some extent,” the statement concluded. “Campbell is committed to minimizing environmental contaminants including heavy metals within our products, and we will work with anyone to help establish federal standards to ensure that babies get the food they need to support healthy growth in their early years.”

A spokesperson for Sprout Organic did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment.

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Investigators were also very critical of the Trump administration, claiming officials “ignored” Hain’s presentation and that the former president’s FDA took “no new action” to address the problem.

“To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents, investigators said. “Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all.”

According to the report, the FDA has only finalized one metal standard for one narrow category of baby food, setting a 100 ppb inorganic arsenic standard for infant rice cereal. However, the subcommittee noted the standard is “far too high to protect against the neurological effects on children.”

“We acknowledge that there is more work to be done, but the FDA reiterates its strong commitment to continue to reduce consumer exposure to toxic elements and other contaminants from food,” The FDA told Reuters in a statement Thursday.