Toxic Baby Food: A Look Beyond the Labels

A recent news story [1] reports that the Clean Label Project, a non-profit organization focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling, tested 530 baby food products for toxic elements and chemicals. The results were not good.

Sixty-five percent of products tested "positive" for arsenic, 36% for lead, 58% for cadmium, and the tests even showed high levels of BPA in “BPA Free” products. These toxins are harmful to infants (and adults), and can lead to developmental delays and permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, liver, bladder, and many other organs in the body. Arsenic and cadmium are known carcinogens while lead, a damaging neurotoxin, accumulates in bone and is released back into the bloodstream when bones develop (a continuous source of exposure) [2].

All toxin exposure should be limited, especially during infancy and childhood when the brain and other organ development is at its most sensitive.

Reviewing the "Proof"

It's important to know whether the amounts this project found in baby food are at a level higher than expected or at levels that are hazardous when ingested.

The first thing I do when I read an article like this is look for proof. What are their testing methods? How did they analyze the samples? Did they look at total levels of toxins, or speciate the samples? Is the work peer reviewed? Do the authors have something to gain from the study?

In this project, the samples were tested by a third-party laboratory. Their element testing was done by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), which is what we use for element testing at ZRT Laboratory. However, their detection limits are very high in comparison to ours, which brings up the question as to how sensitive their testing is.

No one wants to have metals in their foods, but the reality is that trace amounts of metals are found in lots of foods. It is therefore important to know whether the amounts that this project found in the baby food are at a level higher than expected or at levels that have been found to be hazardous when ingested.

Unfortunately, the project isn’t sharing this information. This study is also not published by a peer-reviewed journal where the authors would be expected to answer these questions.

ICP-MS Element Detection Limits
  Clean Label Project (Food) ZRT Laboratory (Urine/Blood)
Lead  4 ppb* 0.02 ppb
Arsenic 4 ppb 0.3 ppb
Mercury 2 ppb 0.05 ppb
Cadmium 2 ppb 0.08 ppb

*ppb = Parts per Billion

Practical Ways to Cope with Toxin Exposure

We are exposed to toxins every day. For the most part it is unavoidable, but making smart lifestyle choices for yourself or your loved ones can help reduce exposure.

The only true way to tell if you are currently being exposed to toxins, or have been exposed to them in the past, is to test for their presence in blood and/or urine.

Making sure the water you drink is free of contaminants and understanding where toxins come from is most important, as it helps you avoid products that can be dangerous. For example, rice takes up arsenic and cadmium from the water in paddy fields, so limiting consumption of rice products will reduce exposure to these toxins [3]. Choosing products that are routinely tested for toxins is smart, too, but these options are not always available – which is the Clean Label Project’s entire mission.

The only true way to tell if you are currently being exposed to toxins, or have been exposed to them in the past, is to test for their presence in blood and/or urine. There is no way to test all the foods we eat, or eliminate exposure from toxins completely. One batch of food may be completely different from the next, or the source of the food may change. Even the time of the year can affect toxin concentration.

ZRT offers a blood spot element test, which is ideal for looking at toxins like lead and organic mercury. We also offer a dried urine element test that provides the best assessment of total arsenic, cadmium, and inorganic mercury. We also test essential elements like selenium and zinc, which are known to help prevent or reduce the toxicity as a result of heavy metal exposure.

Learn more about why sample type matters when testing elements.

Don't Jump to Conclusons without Facts

Independent reviews like the one on baby food by the Clean Label Project can be helpful in making smart food choices, but it is important to separate good science from bad. In this case, without knowing who did the testing, what the test results were, or how food products were rated, I would recommend caution in drawing any firm conclusions.

More about Elements Testing




[3] /blog/archive/arsenic-exposure-from-rice-and-rice-based-breakfast-cereals