By Nailah John, Program Associate
As a mother, I once fed my baby with baby food only to later be told that some baby foods contain toxic metals at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are safe. Congressional investigators have found dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in many popular baby food brands. The World Health Organization says that the top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children include arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. This exposure to heavy metals in childhood is linked to permanent dips in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal activity, and damaged long-term brain function.
Some pediatricians and children’s health experts say that heavy metals are found in soil and contaminate crops grown in it. Heavy metals can also get into food during manufacturing and packaging processes. However, the amount that is allowed in baby food products exceeds the limit. The nonprofit Healthy Babies led a national investigation and found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic chemicals. Fifteen foods accounted for half the risk, with rice-based foods at the top. Making these food and lifestyle changes can help reduce toxic metal residue:
- Choose rice-free snacks over rice-based ones. Try a frozen banana or a chilled cucumber instead of rice-based teething biscuits.
- Opt for oatmeal over rice cereal.
- Give tap water over fruit juice.
- Rather than sticking strictly to baby food made from sweet potatoes and carrots (which contain higher levels of metals), opt for baby food made from other fruits and vegetables.
- Make your own baby food by buying, washing, and blending your own fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t get stuck in the baby food phase. Baby food is meant to be transitional, used only for a few months. Introduce your babies to sources of protein like fish—salmon, tuna, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
- Visit the pediatrician often in the first two years of your child’s life. This can help to identify any developmental problems.
- Limit heavy metal exposure in other ways. Heavy metals are also found in peeling or chipping paint in older homes built before 1978.
- Don’t smoke or vape as secondhand and even thirdhand smoke (or residue from smoking on furniture or clothes) may expose children to metals like cadmium and lead.
While individuals can do their part, the most significant changes will have to come through enforced legislation and stronger regulations on baby food. According to the recent congressional report, toxic metals in tested baby food eclipse safe levels, “including results 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.” The report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and label products that contain them. One of the most powerful ways of creating change is by calling your Member of Congress and urging them to use their voice to address the issue of heavy toxic metals in baby foods. As a mother, I plan to do so and so should you.