U.S – According to a recent study from the University of Buffalo in the US, commercially made infant foods that are likely to contain hazardous metals are not subject to tight restrictions in the U.S.
“It is concerning that there are gaps in food contaminant federal guidelines, particularly for baby foods. Parents might expect and trust that their infant’s commercially produced baby food is automatically protected by tightly regulated guidelines, but that is just not the case,” said the study’s Lead Author, Dr. Sarah Ventre.
After hearing more and more allegations of harmful metals in baby foods in 2019, which led to families raising safety concerns, the team started to investigate the problem.
The researchers reviewed several recent studies, all of which have reported that toxic elements such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium have been found in popular baby foods, in an effort to help parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals make sense of the potential risks and offer guidance.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released draft recommendations for lead in juices in April 2022 and for lead in baby foods just last month after creating an action plan for eliminating hazardous metals in infant foods in 2019.
However, the FDA has not yet provided guidelines for arsenic, mercury, or cadmium, raising doubts about the speed at which regulatory changes will take place.
Toxic elements can be consumed from a variety of sources, including water, baby formula, breast milk, homemade purees, and baby foods like cereals, fruits and vegetables, and fruit juices.
When poisonous substances are consumed with food or water, the gastrointestinal tract absorbs them and they enter the bloodstream.
According to the researchers, babies and young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of toxic element exposure.
They also note that little research has been done to determine the extent to which toxic element exposure from diet contributes to the potential health effects in children exposed to such metals at a young age.
For children exposed to lead, these effects include deficiencies in cognitive function, lower socioeconomic status, and challenging personality traits well into adulthood.
Meanwhile, adult bladder and lung malignancies have been linked to arsenic exposure.
Although some parents might wish to stop consuming particular foods out of concern that they might be exposing their kids to toxins, researchers suggest that is not the best course of action.
Instead, they advise providing kids with a diversified diet that includes a wide variety of foods.
“It is important to focus on the fact that although foods have been found to contain toxic elements, several of these foods are rich in nutrients that are necessary for children’s growth and development,” said paper co-author Dr. Gauri Desai.
The experts advise giving clean drinking water, breastfeeding for the first one to two years, and avoiding excessive juice consumption in addition to diversifying a child’s diet.
Researchers say that while there is some information on which brands of baby formula may have the lowest levels of heavy metals, it is still difficult to determine which formulas are the safest.
They add that parents and healthcare professionals can advocate for more stringent FDA control parameters for infant formula.
“While providing guidance to parents and health care providers is important, the most conclusive way to protect the safety of food ingested by infants and children is through the establishment of stronger guidelines and enforcing those guidelines,” added Ventre.
Jackie Bowen, Executive Director of the Clean Label Project told New Food the issues surrounding baby food and infant formula are “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“Heavy metal contamination is a systemic food industry issue. Focusing on finished products in the absence of focusing on ingredient quality and in the absence of caring about soil health and in the absence of caring about environmental policy is fundamentally flawed and short-sighted,” she said.
Even as the FDA develops measures to limit harmful metals in baby foods, the study points out that more guidance is obviously required for other substances like arsenic, mercury, or cadmium.