Toxic heavy metals are present in 94% of the baby foods sampled in a new study, with rice-based foods being the worst offender.
The study, commissioned by consumer advocacy group Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), found that almost all of the 168 baby foods sampled had detectable amounts of one of four heavy metals that have been linked with damage to brain development. Lead was the most common, appearing in 94% of samples, followed by cadmium at 75%, arsenic at 73% and mercury at 32%. One-fourth of the sampled foods, which included both mainstream and niche brands, contained all four heavy metals.
The presence of heavy metals in baby food has been an ongoing concern, with several advocacy groups conducting similar tests since 2011. In 2017, the FDA commissioned a team of agency scientists to deal with the problem.
“Notably, parents can’t shop their way out of these exposures by choosing organic foods or by switching from store-bought brands to homemade purees,” HBBF’s report states. The problem stems in large part from pollution of irrigation water or of crops directly by fertilizer, airborne contaminants and other sources.
The biggest offenders were rice-based foods and snacks, which were high in inorganic arsenic – the worst kind – and were nearly always contaminated with all four toxic metals. The problem is that paddy rice usually requires irrigation water, which often carries heavy metals, and that rice is especially liable to absorb such pollution. The HBBF study estimates that children from birth to 24 months collectively lose 11 million IQ points from dietary sources – and that rice-based foods are responsible for one-fifth of that loss.
The report noted solutions for food processors, suggested by FDA and others, that include “sourcing rice from fields with lower arsenic levels in soil, growing it with natural soil additives that reduce arsenic uptake by the roots, growing rice strains less prone to arsenic uptake, altering irrigation practices, preparing rice with excess water that is poured off, and blending it with lower arsenic grains in multi-grain products.”