Baby Food Companies are Poisoning our Kids

Should we let babies eat food containing toxic metals? Obviously not, but many baby food manufacturers disagree in practice. More specifically, a congressional investigation by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Committee on Oversight and Reform found trace amounts of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in four major baby food manufacturers. All four of these chemicals are poisonous, meaning they are detrimental to a child’s long-term health and can even be lethal enough to kill. According to Medical News Today, over 400,000 deaths a year can be attributed to lead. The investigation highlights Nurture, Beech-Nut and Hain industries as chief sites for alarming levels of toxic chemicals in food. Each one of those companies had a trace amount of heavy metals “multiples higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products.”

But it is not by pure accident that companies have such high levels of toxic chemicals in their products. All four companies have internal standards and do internal testing before selling their products. For example, Beech-Nut’s internal limit for lead is 5,000 PPB, while the scientific community recommends the limit be set at 1 PPB. To make matters worse, the companies’ standards already “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.” Specifically, the companies sold products with “91 times the legal arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.”

These results are appalling, but why did it happen? First, manufacturers are not required “by the FDA to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals,” in addition to ingredient testing. This allows the baby food companies to cut corners during the manufacturing process without getting caught. As a result of cutting corners, “the levels of inorganic arsenic were between 28-93% higher in the finished product than when the ingredients were tested separately.” Second, the FDA does not have “maximum levels of toxic heavy metal permitted in baby foods.” Third, according to the same report, manufacturers are not “required by the FDA to report levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels.”

All of the aforementioned issues with toxic heavy metal contamination in manufacturing have simple solutions, so why haven’t they been implemented? One of the main reasons is the influence of money in politics. First, industry leaders buy off Congressional members with campaign donations and lobbyists to make sure restrictive laws don’t get passed. In this case, there’s no mandatory testing, labeling or phase-out of toxic ingredient laws. If a law does get passed, “because of the revolving door between the regulators and the people they are supposed to be policing, they take a hands-off approach.” In this case, they are not enforcing FDA standards. Lastly, simultaneous effort over decades has stripped funding for these agencies. As a result, agencies, like the FDA, don’t have the resources to enforce regulations.

Despite these structural impediments, there is a select group of representatives fighting for change. Specifically, “Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Duckworth, along with Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tony Cardenas, D-Calif, “are urging the regulatory agency to place limits on toxic heavy metal content in baby food,” according to CNBC. “Like parents all across America, I was horrified to learn that trusted baby food brands knowingly sell products containing high levels of toxic lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. I urge the FDA to use its existing authorities to take immediate regulatory action,” Cardena said. In order to address the issue, the representatives have proposed the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021. The bill will place a 10-parts-per-billion limit on inorganic arsenic, a 5-ppb limit on lead and cadmium and a 2-ppb limit on mercury. Despite the bill’s benefits, professor Eric Schickler, a co-chair of the APSA Task Force on Congressional Reform, believes it is difficult to pass any bill with the nation’s polarized Congress.

Fortunately, due to the slim majority in the House of Representatives, Krishnamoorthi and Cardena have leverage. Currently, there are 218 members of the Democratic caucus and 212 members of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. Since 216 votes is a simple majority in the House of Representatives, “three defectors is enough to kill a bill,” according to Schickler. This means, Cardena, Krishnamoorthi and a third member of the House of Representatives can condition their vote for other bills based on the inclusion of the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021. There is a path to ensuring our children won’t eat toxic metals—all it takes is three courageous representatives.