Baby food brands contain 'worrisome' level of toxic metals: Gerber, Beech-Nut respond

Leading baby food manufacturers defended their food safety practices on Thursday after a Consumer Reports analysis showed several products contained unsafe levels of toxic heavy metals.

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The product testing nonprofit tested 50 nationally distributed baby food products for traces of the toxic metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic. The investigation found 68 percent had “worrisome levels” of at least one of the metals, while 15 of the products could pose health risks to children if eaten daily.

Consumer Reports said most of the products were produced by the Nestle-owned Gerber brand and Beech-Nut, owned by Swiss company Hero. Baby Mum-Mum, Earth’s Best, Happy Baby, and Sprout also manufactured products that tested positive for heavy metals.

“All of our foods meet our safety and quality standards, which are among the strictest in the world,” Gerber said in a statement. “Our rigorous standards are developed by evaluating the latest food safety guidance – from sources like the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and international health authorities. Gerber also partners with our farmers and our ingredient and packaging suppliers to control, reduce and limit contaminants in all our foods.

Gerber acknowledged that it was possible that “trace amounts” of the metals, which occur naturally, could get into fruits, vegetables and grain used in its products as they grow.

Beech-Nut said it has already adopted many of the techniques recommended by Consumer Reports to prevent contamination, such as sourcing ingredients from low-risk production zones.

“We want to reassure parents that Beech-Nut’s real food for babies is healthy, nutritious and safe,” Beech-Nut said in a statement. “Our focus is on the safety and quality of the food we prepare for infants and toddlers.  We have high standards and rigorous testing protocols. We established heavy metal testing standards 35 years ago, and we continuously review and strengthen them wherever possible.

Earth’s Best, Happy Baby, Sprout and Baby Mum-Mum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Young children are particularly at risk from negative effects associated with toxic metal consumption, according to Consumer Reports. Even small amounts of the metals can impact brain and nervous system development.

Organic baby food products are just as likely to contain dangerous levels of toxic metals as processed products, the report said.

“Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable due to their smaller size and developing brains and organ systems,” said James E. Rogers, Ph.D., Consumer Reports’ director of food safety research and testing. “They also absorb more of the heavy metals that get into their bodies than adults do.”