Lawmakers say manufacturers exploited the lack of federal regulation to set dangerously high internal standards for toxic heavy metal levels.
WASHINGTON (CN) — A House subcommittee shined light Thursday on the high level of toxic heavy metals in commercial baby foods, but the report’s biggest bombshell is that several leading manufacturers are not divulging their numbers.
Only four companies — Beech-Nut, Gerber, Nurture (Happy Baby) and Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) — provided information to the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which is part of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Products from all four, even those marked organic, tested high for inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury — heavy metals that the World Health Organization put in its top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children.
The metals have been linked to mental retardation, neurocognitive disorders, behavioral disorders, respiratory problems, cancer and cardiovascular diseases in children.
Multiple baby food suppliers meanwhile refused to cooperate with the investigation: Walmart, which sells Parent’ Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic products, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Co., maker of Plum Organics baby foods.
Lawmakers called this lack of cooperation very concerning, saying it could indicate “even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products, compared to their competitors’ products.”
As compared with Food and Drug Administration standards for other products — like bottled water, juice and candy — the House investigation found that the baby foods had up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level and up to 5 times the mercury level.
Manufacturers still approved the products for sale, however, because the FDA doesn’t set limits for heavy metals in baby foods except for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.
“Baby food manufacturers are free to set their own internal standards for toxic heavy metal content of their products,” the report states. “They have set those standards at dangerously high levels and have often sold foods that exceed even those levels.”
The House links to a secret 2019 industry presentation that Hain gave to the FDA where it said that its corporate policy was to only test their ingredients, rather than finished baby food products, thereby concealing higher levels of toxic metals.
This was a common practice among all of the baby food manufacturers in the investigation.
An FDA spokesperson said in an email Thursday that the agency is aware of the House report and was reviewing the findings.
“The FDA takes exposure to toxic elements in the food supply extremely seriously, especially when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the youngest and most vulnerable in the population,” the agency said.
None of the baby food companies have admitted wrongdoing.
“We only sell products that have been rigorously tested and we do not have products in-market with contaminant ranges outside of the limits set by the FDA,” Happy Family Organics, which sells Happy Baby products, said in a statement.
Hain, Beech-Nut and Gerber did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Campbell Soup Co. said it cooperated with requests from the committee and is “surprised” by the report.
“In our submission, we noted the unfortunate lack of a current FDA standard for heavy metals in baby food,” the company said. “As we told the committee in our response, our testing showed each product was well within levels deemed acceptable by independent authorities.”
Walmart and Sprout Organic Foods did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition to the companies themselves, the subcommittee heaped blame on the FDA for not warning consumers of the risk. It called on the agency to set standards and carefully regulate the products going forward, with strict compliance requirements and mandatory consumer labels.
“The subcommittee’s investigation revealed that manufacturers knowingly sell tainted baby food to unsuspecting parents, in spite of internal company test results showing high levels of toxic heavy metal, and without any warning labels whatsoever,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement.