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The assessment by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an alliance of nonprofits and doctors working to curb exposure to neurotoxins in early childhood, examined 168 foods from 61 producers, and found either arsenic, cadmium, lead or mercury in all but nine of them. Some 25 percent of the foods contained all four poisonous metals.
Even in the trace amounts found in food, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and erode a child’s IQ, the study cautioned, and the impacts add up with each meal or snack a baby eats.
"Exposures in early life are especially dangerous," Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the global public health program at Boston College, said in a statement. "The cumulative impact of exposures is what makes this a signficant concern that demands action."
The organization wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set health-based limits on trace chemicals that will protect babies' brains from exposure through meals.
According to the report, 15 foods consumed by children under 2 years of age -- including grape and apple juice, soft cereal bars and fruit yogurt -- account for 55 percent of the risk to babies’ brains. .
A new report from the nationally recognized toxicology and economic research firm Abt Associates estimates that lead and arsenic in rice-based foods account for one-fifth of the more than 11 million IQ points children lose from birth to two years of age.
Growing concern about health risks from baby food in the United States has led to an explosion in organic baby food sales, though the report cautions that organic standards don't address neurotoxin risk.
"Parents can protect their babies today by choosing nutritious and affordable alternatives to the most contaminated foods," Landrigan said. "To protect the babies of tomorrow, the food companies and the FDA need to step up and do more."