Congressional investigators find 'dangerously high' levels of heavy metals in some baby food

Congressional investigators find 'dangerously high' levels of heavy metals in some baby food
© Bonnie Cash

A congressional investigation found “dangerously high” levels of heavy metals in some baby foods.

staff report from the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released Thursday found that some internal company standards “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.”

The panel said Nurture Inc., which sells baby food under the brand HappyBABY, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial and Gerber responded to its requests for internal documents and test results, noting that arsenic, lead and cadmium was present in baby foods made by all of the companies.

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The report also criticized the Trump administration for ignoring “a secret industry presentation to federal regulators revealing increased risks of toxic heavy metals in baby foods.”

Investigators found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received a secret slide presentation from Hain that said its corporate policy to test only ingredients and not final products under-represents the level of heavy metals in baby foods. The agency reportedly took no action in response.

“In 100% of the Hain baby foods tested, inorganic arsenic levels were higher in the finished baby food than the company estimated they would be based on individual ingredient testing,” the report said.

In a statement to The Hill, Hain said it was "disappointed that the Subcommittee report examined outdated data and does not reflect our current practices," adding that the report "inaccurately characterized a meeting with the FDA." 

The company said it met with the agency last year and has since taken "several steps to reduce the levels of heavy metals in our finished products."

Congressional investigators also said in the report they were concerned that Walmart, Campbell Soup Company and Sprout Organic Foods refused to cooperate, noting “their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products.” 

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Walmart told The Hill that it "provided information to the subcommittee nearly a year ago and invited more dialogue on this important issue but never received any additional inquiries."

It added in a statement that product testing would be managed by its suppliers and that its private label product suppliers "must meet our own internal finished goods specifications, which for baby and toddler food means the levels must meet or fall below the limits established by the FDA."

Campbell said in a statement that it “responded quickly” to the committee’s questions and was “surprised that the Committee would suggest that Campbell was less than full partners in this mission.”

Happy Family Organics, under which Nurture sells HappyBABY, said it was "disappointed at the many inaccuracies, select data usage and tone bias in this report. "

"We can say with the utmost confidence that all Happy Family Organics products are safe for babies and toddlers to enjoy, and we are proud to have best-in-class testing protocols in our industry," the company said in a statement. "The report provides little of the relevant and necessary context for this complex topic."

Beech-Nut also told The Hill that it was reviewing the report.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA, in partnership with the Baby Food Council, on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry."

A Gerber spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the company takes "many steps to minimize" the presence of heavy metals in their baby food, adding "Gerber foods receive thorough oversight at all levels of the growing and the production process.

"The FDA and the World Health Organization have said that heavy metals like inorganic arsenic, lead, calcium and mercury and dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children.

Updated Friday at 9:02 a.m.