A report released Thursday tested 168 baby food types for four toxic metals: arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) commissioned the report, which found that 95% of the baby foods were contaminated by at least one metal, and one in four contained all four metals. Only nine of the 168 baby foods tested weren’t found to contain arsenic, lead, cadmium or mercury.
The test examined 61 different baby food brands and 13 types of food, from infant formula and juices to teething biscuits and snacks. These results mean there’s a high chance your baby’s food contains traces of these toxic metals.
The highest-risk foods are fruit juices and rice products, like puff snacks and cereals, because arsenic is used as a pesticide in rice fields. Four out seven infant rice cereals tested contained the inorganic form of arsenic, which is even more toxic, at levels well above the limits set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Root crops like sweet potatoes and carrots are common culprits, too.
Lead was found most often, appearing in 94% of baby foods tested. Cadmium and arsenic showed up in about three-quarters of the food, and mercury was found in just under a third.
The top three toxic materials found — lead, cadmium, and arsenic — are frequently used in pesticides. They are known human carcinogens, meaning they have a likelihood to cause cancer. Even though they’re naturally ocurring elements, they should not be in food. All four metals are neurotoxic, posing serious threats to childhood brain development.
Data analysis also commissioned by HBBF showed that exposure to these heavy metals can result in lower IQs: American children ages 0 to 24 months have already lost more than 11 million IQ points from exposure to arsenic and lead in food, NBC News reported. Rice-based foods alone make up 20% of this IQ loss.
Other effects can include attention deficits and other learning and behavioral issues. With such a high risk, it’s surprising that the FDA has not issued regulations for these foods, but for almost 90 percent of the baby foods tested, the FDA has not set any standards limiting toxic metal traces.
The HBBF suggests rice-free snacks and non-rice cereals to avoid exposing children to contamination. Vegetables besides sweet potato and carrot purees can help, too, as well as swapping teething biscuits for frozen bananas or similar. HBBF says these alternatives have 80% lower levels of the metals on average than the usual foods.