By Roni Caryn Rabin
© The New York Times Co.
Ingredients in many baby foods, including some organic fare, are contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium at levels that are far higher than those allowed in products such as bottled water, congressional investigators said Thursday.
Their report underscored the federal government’s persistently lax approach to overseeing the safety of baby food, some experts said, despite clear risks to infants and toddlers. Exposure to heavy metals in particular has been linked to behavioral impairments, brain damage and even death.
“This is an endemic problem that’s been swept under the rug and never addressed,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California-San Francisco, who was not involved in the preparation of the congressional report.
The report, by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, drew on data from four companies that responded to requests for information about testing policies and test results regarding their products.
Investigators reserved their harshest criticism for three other companies that did not provide the requested information: Walmart, which sells Parents’ Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic products; Sprout Organic Foods; and Campbell Soup Co., maker of Plum Organics baby foods.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, DIll., who is chairman of the subcommittee, said the failure to provide the requested information “raises the concern that perhaps they have evidence of even higher metallic content in their baby foods, compared to their competitors.”
Representatives of Walmart and Campbell Soup disputed the characterization, saying the companies had responded to requests for information, although they acknowledged they did not provide testing data. Sprout did not respond to a request for comment.
The Food and Drug Administration does not set limits on heavy metals specifically for baby foods, except for arsenic in rice cereal.
The agency “has been AWOL” and has “completely put its head in the sand and not done anything to regulate the industry,” Krishnamoorthi said. He plans to introduce legislation to tighten regulatory oversight of baby food, he added.
An FDA spokesperson said that the agency has been working toward reducing toxins in foods, and that setting the limit on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal was the first step toward doing so.