How safe is your baby food? | Kiowa County Press


One study found that 95% of baby foods tested contained at least one heavy metal. Feather Creative via Getty Images

C. Michael White, University of Connecticut

Heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury, can be found in commercial baby foods at levels well above what the federal government considers safe for children, a new congressional report warns.

Members of Congress have asked seven major baby food manufacturers to turn in test results and other internal documents after a 2019 report found that of 168 baby food products, 95% contained at least a heavy metal. Foods containing rice or root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, had some of the highest levels, but they weren’t the only ones.

How concerned should parents be and what can they do to reduce their child’s exposure?

As a teacher and pharmacist, I investigated for several years the safety issues of drugs and dietary supplements, including heavy metal contamination and the chemical NDMA, a probable carcinogen. Here are the answers to four questions parents have about the risks of baby food.

How do heavy metals get in baby food?

Heavy metals come from the natural erosion of the earth’s crust, but humans have also dramatically accelerated environmental exposure to heavy metals.

When coal is burned, it releases heavy metals into the air. Lead has been commonly found in gasoline, paint, pipes, and pottery glazes for decades. A pesticide containing both lead and arsenic was widely used on crops and in orchards until it was banned in 1988, and fertilizers containing phosphate, including organic varieties, still contain small amounts of cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead.

These heavy metals always contaminate the soil, and irrigation can expose more soil to the heavy metals present in the water.

When food is grown in contaminated soil and irrigated with water containing heavy metals, the food becomes contaminated. Additional heavy metals can be introduced during the manufacturing processes.

The United States has made great strides in reducing the use of fossil fuels, filtering out pollutants, and removing lead from many products such as gasoline and paint. This reduced lead exposure in the air by 98% from 1980 to 2019. The processes can now also remove some heavy metals from drinking water. However, heavy metals that have accumulated in the soil over decades are an ongoing problem, especially in developing countries.

How many heavy metals is too much?

The World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration have defined tolerable daily intakes of heavy metals. However, it is important to recognize that for many heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, there is no daily intake that is completely devoid of long term health risk.

For lead, the FDA considers 3 micrograms per day or more to be of concern in children, well below the level for adults (12.5 micrograms per day).

Young children’s bodies are smaller than adults, and lead cannot be stored as easily in bones, so the same dose of heavy metals causes much higher blood levels in young children, where it can. cause more damage. In addition, young brains develop faster and are therefore more at risk of neurological damage.

Baby food jars
Root vegetables, like sweet potatoes and carrots, have some of the highest levels of heavy metals. Tetra Images via Getty Images

These lead levels are about a tenth of the dose needed to achieve blood lead levels associated with major neurological problems, including the development of behavioral problems like aggression and attention deficit disorder. This does not mean that lower doses are safe, however. Recent research shows that lower blood lead levels still impact neurological function, but not so dramatically.

For other heavy metals, the daily intake considered tolerable is based on body weight: mercury is 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight; arsenic is not currently defined, but before 2011 it was 2.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

As with lead, there is a considerable margin of safety between the tolerable dose and the dose which has a high risk of causing neurological damage, anemia, liver and kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer. But even smaller amounts still carry risks.

An example of the exposure infants may face is a brand of carrot baby food that contains 23.5 parts of lead per billion, which equates to 0.67 micrograms of lead per ounce. Considering the average 6 month old child eats 4 ounces of vegetables per day, that would represent 2.7 micrograms of lead per day – almost the maximum tolerable daily intake.

What can parents do to reduce a child’s exposure?

Since the amount of heavy metals varies widely, food choices can make all the difference. Here are some ways to reduce a young child’s exposure.

1) Minimize the use of rice products, including rice cereals, puffed rice, and rice teething cookies. Switching from rice products to oat, corn, barley or quinoa products could reduce arsenic intake by 84% and total heavy metal content by around 64%, according to the study of 168 baby foods from the Healthy Babies group. Bright futures.

Using frozen banana chunks or a clean washcloth instead of a rice cereal teething cookie reduced total heavy metal exposure by about 91%.

2) Switch from fruit juice to water. Fruit juice is not recommended for young children because it is loaded with sugar, but it is also a source of heavy metals. Switching to water could reduce heavy metal consumption by around 68%, according to the report.

3) Alternate between root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. The roots of plants are in closest contact with the soil and have higher concentrations of heavy metals than other vegetables. Switching from carrots or sweet potatoes to other vegetables could reduce the total heavy metal content that day by about 73%. Root vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients, so you don’t have to give them up entirely, but use them sparingly.

Making your own baby food may not reduce your child’s exposure to heavy metals. It depends on the dose of heavy metals in each of the ingredients you use. Organic may not automatically mean that the heavy metal content is lower, as the soil could have been contaminated for generations before it was converted, and water runoff from neighboring farms could contaminate common water sources.

Does anyone do something?

The congressional report calls on the FDA to better define acceptable limits for heavy metals in baby foods. He points out that the levels of heavy metals found in some baby foods far exceed the maximum levels allowed in bottled water. It also recommends standards for testing in the industry and suggests requiring baby food manufacturers to report heavy metal amounts on their product labels so parents can make informed choices.

Baby food manufacturers are also discussing the issue. The Baby Food Council was created in 2019 to bring together leading infant and toddler food companies, advocacy and research groups to reduce heavy metals in baby food products. They created a baby food standards and certification program to work collaboratively on the testing and certification of raw ingredients. Ultimately, baby food manufacturers will need to consider changing agricultural sources of raw ingredients, using less seasonings and changing processing practices.

The United States has made significant progress in reducing heavy metals in air and water since the 1980s, significantly reducing exposure. With additional concentration, it can also further reduce exposure to heavy metals in baby food.

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The conversation

C. Michael White, Professor Emeritus and Head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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