According to a congressional report released on Thursday by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, some baby foods often contain "significant levels" of heavy metals, which could have "irreversible" effects on brain development. These metals include: arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium.
“The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have declared them dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children, who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects,” the report said, per the New York Times.
On November 6, 2019, and after reports alleged baby foods contained high levels of toxic metals, the aforementioned committee requested internal documents of the seven largest baby food manufacturers in America. Specifically, those companies were: Beech-Nut, Hain (Earth's Best Organic), Nurture (Happy Family Organics/HappyBABY), Campbell (Plum Organics), Sprout Organic Foods, Gerber, and Walmart (Parent's Choice).
Of those requested to share documents, four — Nurture, Hain, Gerber, and Beech-Nut — responded. The other three reportedly declined to cooperate.
The committee says arsenic, lead, and cadmium were found in foods from all the responding companies, and also that mercury was detected in the one company (Nurture) that ran tests for it. Note that the other three companies who did respond rarely, if ever, test for mercury.
Harsher criticisms were leveled by the subcommittee at the companies that didn't respond, as the group voiced its "[great] concern" that those companies "might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products."
Reps for both Campbell and Walmart disputed that depiction, according to the NYT, instead saying that there was a response on their end(s) to information requests, but that both didn't provide testing data.
Though specifics weren't provided, Beech-Nut put out a statement attempting to reassure parents that “rigorous testing protocols and strict standards" are in place for its products.
Gerber similarly said, through a spokeswoman, that it goes through steps to minimize metals in its foods, saying "The health and safety of babies is our highest priority.”
As an attempt at a solution, the subcommittee recommended that a maximum level of toxic heavy metals in baby food be established by the FDA, that companies are required to test finished products (instead of just ingredients) for said metals, and that test results be put onto labels so consumers can be informed.
“Baby food manufacturers hold a special position of public trust. Consumers believe that they would not sell products that are unsafe. Consumers also believe that the federal government would not knowingly permit the sale of unsafe baby food,” the report said.
For those who were previously in the dark on the subject (perhaps most, maybe even all) the FDA doesn't have specific heavy metal limits for baby food, with the exception of monitoring arsenic in rice cereal. That same agency does regulate lead in things like bottled water, candy, and juice, and also draws up limits for cadmium and arsenic in bottled water.
Also heavy metals can naturally occur in some grains/vegetables, though the amount of those metals can go up based upon things like enzymes, vitamins, and mineral mixes that are added into baby food, according to the report.