Heavy metals found in common baby foods

Consumer Reports, a non-profit consumer protection organization, released a study Thursday saying they found heavy metals in all 50 packaged baby food items they tested for lead, cadmium or inorganic arsenic.

The study says even the organic products had measurable levels of a heavy metal. Two-thirds of the products tested had "worrisome" levels. 

Heavy metals are of particular health concern for babies and toddlers, according to Dr. Eric Henley, Chief Medical Officer of Lifelong Medical Care in Berkeley.

"They can get absorbed into the body and they've all been associated with effects, particularly on brain development and what we call cognitive functioning," said Dr. Henley.

The study found that products with rice or sweet potatoes were particularly likely to have high levels of heavy metals.

The study stated, "Based on our test results, all the samples of Beech-Nut Classics Sweet Potatoes, Earth’s Best Organic Sweet Potatoes, and Gerber Turkey & Rice had concerning levels of lead. We purchased one sample of each of those products in California, and we believe our samples exceeded the state’s threshold."

Beech-nut responded, saying their food is safe and joined calls for the FDA to establish industry standards.

"Currently, no government standard or recommendation exists for lead. We continue to advocate for a government standard or recommendation for lead level, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with the FDA on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry," the statement read.

"Some of these heavy metals may be coming into foods from natural sources, not because of anybody is contaminating the food. That just may be the way they grow and absorb things from water and the soil," said Dr. Henley.

That poses a broader concern, even for families who choose to make their own baby food.

"My wife kind of made the natural foods. She bought the food, mashed it herself," said Dennis Deas, a Berkeley father. 

"I think they should address the issue and to think about what's safe for the kids and actually put the FDA on alert that these are the real ingredients and this is the impact or harm that they have on our children," said Deas. 

Doctors say it can take years before there are conclusive studies determining the health impacts, but parents can take concrete action now.

"A good strategy would be to rotate the kind of foods that you feed your baby, so you're not feeding the same thing day, after day, after day, 'cause if that has some levels of these heavy metals in it, there's more likelihood that they will accumulate and become higher in your baby," said Dr. Henley.

For a link to the full list of specific foods, click here