Some 65 percent of baby food products in the US – including four out of five baby formulas – contain traces of the toxin arsenic, a new study has found, but officials say there is little they can do to remove substances that could harm developing infants.
The Clean Label Project study of 530 baby products also found that 36 percent of the products contained lead, 58 percent cadmium and 10 percent acrylamide. While most samples contained only trace amounts of the toxins, some exceeded the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations by up to six times.
The transparent labeling advocacy group said that Gerber, Enfamil, Plum Organics and Sprout – market-leading brands – produced some of the most contaminated baby foods.
“The baby industry needs to do a better job in protecting America’s most vulnerable population,” Jaclyn Brown, the executive director of the Clean Label Project, told USA Today.
Arsenic damages the brain and other internal organs, is carcinogenic and has been linked to diabetes. Several studies have shown that babies exposed to greater quantities of the poison go on to develop lower IQ and motor skills, but it has been impossible to determine at what threshold the damage occurs, and if there is any amount of arsenic that is safe.
The FDA has recommended a limit of 100 parts per billion of arsenic in infant rice cereal, but has not made its recommendation compulsory for manufacturers. It says one of the problems is that foods, particularly rice, a popular infant snack, tends to naturally absorb toxic substances such as arsenic and lead, another neurotoxin.
“It is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food,” said Peter Cassell, an FDA spokesperson.
The European Commission has, however, imposed a legal limit on arsenic content in rice destined for infant food, even though several studies have shown that manufacturers are still not complying with the ruling.