In a report released earlier this year, the House subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy concluded that “commercial baby foods contain dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium…[that] pose serious health risks to babies and toddlers.” The subcommittee sought to study the safety of the leading baby food producers in the US and requested samples from Nurture Inc., Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Gerber, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart Inc., and Sprout Foods, Inc. Of those seven, only the first four actually complied with the House’s request.
As a result of that lack of compliance, the conclusion can only be based on the results of the companies’ products that were actually tested. The effects of report, however, have spanned the baby food industry. Several of the companies listed in the report are now defendants in multiple class action lawsuits as parents across the country assert that they never would have bought the food in the first place if they knew they were putting their little ones at risk.
As stated in one such lawsuit, there is an expectation that “the food they feed their infants and toddlers [is] free from heavy metal substances known to have significant and dangerous health consequences.”
Interestingly, government guidance on heavy metals and other toxins in baby food is quite limited. In response to the House report, Campbell Soup says that it essentially had to fall back onto regulations written for other food types when figuring out how to regulate its baby food products. “Given the lack of specific FDA guidance on baby food,” the company said, “Campbell used standards from California’s Proposition 65, the EU, and the WHO, along with general guidance from the FDA on lead not specific to baby foods – to develop a testing protocol for evaluating whether heavy metals in Plum Organics’ products exceeded levels that independent authorities had determined to be acceptable.”
Gerber has come out in full support of the safety of their products as well. In a statement to FoodNavigator-USA the company says they “fully stand behind the safety of all of our products, including the products that were the subject of this report.” The company goes on to state that their standards are “industry-leading, and among the strictest in not just the U.S., but the world.”
Hain Celestial attacked the data used in the report, saying that they were “disappointed that the Subcommittee report examined outdated data and does not reflect our current practices.” These practices included ending the use of brown rice in rice-based products, “changing other ingredients and conducting additional testing of finished product before shipping.”
As the industry scrambles, one thing is for certain: it’s going to take a lot more than a series of corporate statements to put the nation’s parents’ minds at ease when they visit the baby food aisle for the foreseeable future.