(CBSDFW.COM) - A recent congressional report reveals that ingredients in many baby foods contain dangerously high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium. Released by a House of Representatives subcommittee led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi on Feb. 4, the report indicates levels that exceed the legal limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have declared toxic heavy metals dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children, who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects. Even low levels of exposure can cause serious and often irreversible damage to brain development.
According to the report, these companies make up some of the largest baby food manufacturers in the United States:
- Nurture, Inc. (Nurture), which sells Happy Family Organics, including baby food products under the brand name HappyBABY
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company (Beech-Nut)
- Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Hain), which sells baby food products under the brand name Earth's Best Organic
- Campbell Soup Company (Campbell), which sells baby food products under the brand name Plum Organics
- Walmart Inc. (Walmart), which sells baby food products through its private brand Parent's Choice
- Sprout Foods, Inc. (Sprout Organic Foods)
Out of the seven companies reviewed by the committee, four shared internal documents and test results while three (Campbell, Walmart, and Sprout Organic Foods) refused to hand over any information, according to the report. It also said concerning levels of heavy metals were found in products from all four of the companies reviewed.
"The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors' products," the report said.
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, according to the report.
Nurture (HappyBABY) sold all products tested, regardless of how much toxic heavy metal the baby food contained.
Beech-Nut set the highest internal arsenic and cadmium standards of any responding manufacturer.
Hain (Earth's Best Organic) justified deviations above its ingredient testing 5 standards based on "theoretical calculations," even after Hain admitted to FDA that its testing underestimated final product toxic heavy metal levels.
The subcommittee had "grave concerns about baby food products manufactured by Walmart (Parent's Choice), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell (Plum Organics)." The report said "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."
Walmart sent CBS 11 News the following statement confirming they did in fact follow up with the committee.
"Walmart is committed to providing safe, quality food. We 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. 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. Healthy Babies Bright Futures also published "What's in my baby's food," in October of 2019 that tested seven Walmart private label products and according to their reported results, the metals tested were within FDA guidance levels. We are reviewing the report now that it is available."
Campbell Soup Company also sent CBS 11 News a statement refuting that they didn't cooperate. It read in part:
"For more than 150 years, Campbell has placed the safety of consumers, especially our youngest consumers, above all else. That is why we cooperated with the Committee on Oversight and Reform's baby food review. We responded quickly to their questions, which you can read here, 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."
Read their full statement on the report here.
The report also alleges that "The Trump administration ignored a secret industry presentation to federal regulators revealing increased risks of toxic heavy metals in baby foods." The presentation made clear that ingredient testing is inadequate, and that only final product testing can measure the true danger posed by baby foods. But, "The Trump FDA took no new action in response. To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents. Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all," the report said.
The report recommended a series of reforms to the industry in order to regain the public's trust.
The Subcommittee made the following recommendations:
• Mandatory testing—Baby food manufacturers should be required by FDA to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals, not just their ingredients;
• Labeling—Manufacturers should by required by FDA to report levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels;
• Voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients—Manufacturers should voluntarily find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals, or phase out products that have high amounts of ingredients that frequently test high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice;
• FDA standards—FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods. One level for each metal should apply across all baby foods. And the level should be set to protect babies against the neurological effects of toxic heavy metals; and
• Parental vigilance—Parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients testing high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice products.
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