Exposure to toxic metals can start early, and as per a recent report, it starts even before a child turns two. The report finds that baby foods contain toxic heavy metals that are shown to affect brain development.
Though this problem was highlighted a long time ago, it is far from being solved, said the report released by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an alliance of non-profit organizations.
The source of heavy metals in baby foods can be traced back to soil and water, where they are naturally present. Due to indiscriminate use of pesticides and contaminated fertilizers, their levels in the field has shot up, resulting in crops taking up the toxins. "Leafy greens and root crops like carrots and sweet potatoes retain more than most other types of fruits and vegetables," read the report.
The organization tested for traces of toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury in 168 baby foods, from 61 brands, including big names and niche brands. From their analysis, they found that 95 percent of the containers were contaminated with heavy metals. They add that one in four baby foods tested positive for all four metals.
“Even in the trace amounts found in food, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and erode a child’s IQ. The impacts add up with each meal or snack a baby eats,” said the report.
In another analysis, they saw that 15 foods, including apple and grape juice, oat ring cereal, macaroni and cheese, puff snacks and ten other foods, consumed by children under two years of age, account for 55 percent of the risk to their brains. They also estimate that children aged between 0 and 2 years, exposed to arsenic and lead in food, lose more than 11 million IQ points.
The report revealed a list of foods that parents should be wary of: puff snacks, teething biscuits, rice rusks, rice cereals, fruit juice, carrots and sweet potatoes, which they classify as high-risk foods. Instead, they ask parents to opt for safer options: rice-free snacks, frozen bananas and chilled cucumber for teething, multigrain and oatmeal food, tap water and a variety of other fruits and vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes. "The safer choices contain 80 percent less arsenic, lead and other toxic heavy metals, on average, than the riskier picks," said the report.
Of all the foods that they tested, they found that rice-based foods — infant rice cereal, rice dishes and rice-based snacks — were the worst offenders, with high levels of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic, and the four toxic metals.
The report also highlights other remedial actions that baby food manufacturers and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can adopt. Besides asking baby food manufactures to step up and reduce the levels of heavy metals in their products, they want the FDA to issue guidance or set standards for the maximum safe limit of heavy metals.
"The FDA should be doing more. It's the FDA’s job to set rules that make food safe," registered nurse Charlotte Brody, one of the authors of the report and the national director of the HBBF, told NBC News.