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Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metals [pdf] (house.gov)
79 points by malloci 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments



I am suspicious that the repeated comparison to standards for water here aren't really fair. Heavy metals are a natural occurrence in pretty much all foods that we eat, regardless of environmental pollution (though pollution does have a notable impact).

For instance, it's incredibly common for even the highest-quality 'organic' produce to contain levels of heavy metals such as lead in amounts that drastically exceed California's prop 65 standards. Things like avocados and watermelons often have close to 10x more lead than what prop 65 considers acceptable. Spinach, wines, cruciferous vegetables and nuts tend to be even worse. Even when grown in relatively unpolluted soils with 'natural' lead levels (50-400 ppm range), many such produce items STILL drastically exceed prop 65 standards.

That said, I'm not a food safety expert or toxicologist, so I might have an incredibly bad take on this.


Honestly, the whole thing reads like a hit piece. There are published standards for exposure levels in foods but the committee intentionally used inapplicable standards such as the much more stringent standard for purified water. Their reasoning is, "It is not sound logic to say that water is unsafe to drink if it contains over 5 ppb lead, but candy and fruit juice can be ten and twenty times higher than that limit."

The report is also full of frankly offensive conjecture. You'll find statements like, "Whether due to evasion or negligence, Sprout’s failure to respond raises serious concerns about the presence of toxic heavy metals in its baby foods," about any company that didn't respond to the committee in the way they felt appropriate.

They also repeatedly state that the levels of heavy metals in baby foods are unsafe but they never actually make a case for it. They just take it as truth and titled the report as such.

Finally, I would keep in mind that this is a congressional oversight committee staff report. This wasn't made by scientists. Nobody involved in the creation of the report has working knowledge of food safety or testing procedures. All testing in the report was provided by the companies in question. This report was made by a team of people working for the House as the foundation for proposing new laws and regulations and as such it's an inherently political report.

Frankly, after the publishing of this report it's doubtful that any company will be willing to work with this subcommittee ever again and they would be right to refuse.


> Honestly, the whole thing reads like a hit piece.

To me it reads like cognitive dissonance. They write multiple damning statements (yes based in science) but conclude with 'voluntary changes' and 'more research'.

I'll mention that the piece speaks about FDA not needing baby food manufacturers to test the final product of the food, only the ingredients. Multiple independent studies confirm that the manufacturing of baby food products is outrageous, in terms of what is allowed. Compared to adult food, it's a double standard.

Instead, baby foods should be held to a higher standard. But this Democrat Committee is okay with 3 companies (of 7) not responding to their inquiry, only 'suggesting' private changes, and kicks the can down the road with a cop-out like 'more research needs to be done by the FDA'.

It's a long document but corruption and negligence is bipartisan [1].

[1] - This is b/c the report condemns Trump for hiding hazardous facts about baby food products but then with those facts they/Dem-led only commit to lip service.


I guess you can have left-wing anti-science too.


With our child we weren't able to breastfeed. We had to use formula. All the U.S. brands like Gerber, Enfamil, and others gave the baby terrible colic.

We did extensive research (my wife's waking hours were consumed with this). We found Hipp Combiotic milk, and it was wonderful. It was a German brand, and adhered to EU standards for child health. Colic: gone. Within a month or two our child hit the 98% percentile for size and weight and stayed there.

Shortly after the baby switched to solid food, the U.S. began to "crack down" on imported formula that "didn't meet FDA standards." The EU standards for food safety are generally higher than FDA standards. I'm so glad we were able to get that formula before the government interfered.


I went through a similar thing with my son. The best part was when an acquaintance recommended the “easier on the stomach” variant of one of the popular formula brands. I checked the box, first ingredient: corn syrup!

For what it’s worth, it’s very hard to be sure switching brands is the causation of a better outcome vs just a correlation. Babies change rapidly so it’s possible that unrelated development is there true source of recovery. But it was definitely a dramatic difference for us exactly when we switched formulas too.


For us it was night and day with the different formula. We even tried going back to old formulas see if it really was the new formula. Immediate problems.

Hipp didn't have corn syrup, and did have the right nutrients for each stage.


https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/parenting/baby/european-f... (FDA claims about the dagers of not being able to read foreign language labels)


*dangers


so what standard did it not met?


Looks like labeling laws. Not written in English and also some reports of adverse events they are trying to figure out.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/parenting/baby/european-f...


When we purchased it (it was still legal several years ago), the instructions were in English. We followed the mixing guide, we knew what the ingredients were (because we researched) including the milk proteins.

The formulas available on the American market were all loaded with sweetener and caused colic. This is an anecdote, but so is what's presented in that article.


> loaded with sweetener and caused colic

Interesting. Sucrose, glucose, fructose have same amount of calories as lactose, just different sweetness (apparently evolutionary trait so that babies don’t get too addicted to milk).


That's the thing, they claimed it didn't meet the standard because it hadn't gone through the approval process.


> our child hit the 98%

Wouldn’t you want to be on 50th percentile?


Height and weight early in a child's life has more to do with nutrition than with genetics. Our child was physically healthy and strong. No obesity, just good growth and physical development. Crawling, walking, running all in line with normal ranges.

Kiddo is in first grade now, still the size of a child roughly two years older, no fat, just healthy.


Idk man your both posts sound like spam.


My baby is similarly large for her age. Eventually she'll probably hit a growth plateau and approach the mean. But for now it means a lot less worrying about her nutrition than if she were bouncing around the fiftieth percentile.


this sounds like the start of a dystopian book :(


Assuming a family member has time, why not make baby food at home?


It is not possible to make baby formula (the only thing besides breast milk that babies under 4 months can eat) at home.


My baby just started eating solid food. It's really easy to make that kind of baby food at home. Baby formula, on the other hand, is designed for younger babies and is much harder.


You’d have to freeze it loosing most of convenience it provides us - having couple pouches in car or bag to use once a month or so.


Can you elaborate on why you were not able to breast feed if you don’t mind?


Baby had a tongue-tie and didn't properly develop the motion for nursing. The tongue-tie was corrected on day 2, but nursing never worked. Latching went OK, but drawing the milk out didn't and the baby would give up and wail. One or two missed pumpings and the milk dried up, because it never fully came in.

We tried for three months. My wife was reaching the end of her rope, emotionally (PPD is a horrifying thing). Formula that worked was a godsend.

This was our first child. We took the classes, even selected a hospital based on their success rate with natural childbirth. We had intended for no drugs, breastfeeding, all the ideals of caring for an infant...

The baby was a few days late. We went in for an ultrasound, as we had to do daily at that point. As the ultrasound completed, the nurse told us we'd have to stay. When the baby is getting ready to come out, it drinks the amniotic fluid, so there's much less of it. That should have coincided with the beginning of labor, but it didn't. We had to induce.

I went home to get our bags for the hospital stay. When I came back, they began to induce labor with pitosin. It was an agonizingly slow process, and it was failing. After 60+ hours of labor, with the back of the baby's head pushing against my wife's spine ("back labor") my wife chose an epidural for the pain.

It didn't work. At 72 hours of inducing, at maximum recommended doses of pitosin, the baby's heart rate was indicating distress, and dilation was still insufficient.

We had a C-section. Later, the baby couldn't nurse properly. We used formula.

We'd wanted to do what was natural, had planned to do it. If that had been all we had, we'd have lost both mother and child in childbirth. If, in another age, we'd not had the means to hire a wet nurse, we'd have lost the child even if it had been born properly.

I'm so glad that we were able to get all the care we needed.


Thanks for the explanation and I’m sorry about the issues you are facing. We are expecting a child soon so I’m trying to soak in as much information as possible.


All of that is behind us now. Things are good. Hard stuff is schooling and discipline now. I hope things go well for you.


As a parent who has been feeding her 9 month old son various baby food products for the past few months, I'm not sure how to respond to this news. Here are my thoughts:

1. If the baby food companies are correct and the contamination is coming from the soil, isn't it safer to buy baby food that's at least tested than feeding my son homemade food when I don't know which farms it comes from?

2. Is this heavy metal soil contamination new? Babies have been fed manufactured purees for several generations already, so you would think we'd be able to observe results of heavy metal consumption in the older population.

3. The report's only recommendation to parents is that they stop feeding foods with heavy metals to babies, but they don't provide a complete list of products to avoid, which any recall would. Why?

I definitely wanted to throw away all my baby food when I read this, but now I feel like it's pointless. Unless I fed my baby a vegan diet from fruits and vegetables I grew on soil I personally tested, I don't think it's possible to avoid these heavy metals entirely. Am I wrong?


1. Home made food can be home grown food and you can test your own soil. I would think the toxic levels would be higher in a factory farm setting vs a small farm.

2. No and levels may be lower now compared to years ago when we had more heavy industry.

3. It's a hit piece and shouldn't be taken at face value.


I’d be curious to learn how to test the soil.


I don’t have good answers to your questions, but you can still order European baby foods like the Dutch version of HiPP at some smaller vendors like littlebundle.com. We have been feeding this to my infant son for over a month now and he has been doing great.


So as someone who trys to follow food safety, high levels of Arsenic in rice based products is entirely not surprising to me.

Consumer reports[1] (and others) have been discussing the high levels of Arsenic in all Rice grown in the US (even organic). Its in the soil from previous growing methods (older pesticides I believe).

On the other hand, lead, mercury and cadmium in these foods is news to me...

1. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-muc...


https://www.wsj.com/articles/toxic-heavy-metals-found-in-som...

Companies such as Walmart refused Congressional inquiry.


I’m very skeptical of this. Do “adult foods” have similar levels of heavy metals? I’m guessing they do. The alternative would be that all these manufacturers are conspiring to use some kind of special high-toxin supply chain just to poison babies.


Sea food is especially high in mercury since we polluted the oceans with coal burning.


I have not researched this deeply, but it's my understanding that infants and young children are generally more sensitive to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, etc than humans. So while it may be the case that the levels in baby and adult food are similar, it may only be a cause for concern in baby food.


This is what’s wrong with globalization. Key parts of the supply chain have been outsourced. Landed companies have deniability when issues like this arise and face very little in consequences.

The food we’ve been feeding our babies has 10-30x the legal limits of what is allowed in our drinking water. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m very tempted to go buy a pitch fork.


But once you have your pitchfork, what's next? Most produce contains levels of heavy metals due to soil conditions that in many cases cannot be remediated without extreme expense that renders farming economically unviable, but even then, even relatively pristine soils still yield produce with eyebrow-raising levels of lead and other questionable substances.

Not attempting to defend the food industry here, but I also don't really see an obviously viable path to remediating the situation.


Say thank you to the fossil fuels industry for making this problem worse.

We still use lead in many aircraft fuels.


That is for private propeller aviation mostly. While I'm no 'chemtrailer' (as in believing intentional 'spraying' for whatever reason by them), searching for 'toxicological asessment' of jet fuel A1(civil), and JP5/JP8 for the most common military ones can be disturbing, to say the least.

Start with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_fuel if you want to. And from there on to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JP-8 and learn that they use this in military diesel powered vehicles on the road, too!

Yummie!


It doesn't lesson the problem if this is to be expected from our farm practices. The title of the report says "Tainted with Dangerous Levels", so we have a problem or congress is being unnecessarily political.

If nothing else it is evidence of a societal issue that has pushed mothers away from breast feeding (where presumably the human body is able to filter background levels of heavy metals) towards consumer products harvested with no evidence for quality controls.


I don't think your claims about social attitudes towards breast feeding really map onto this discussion. The report focuses on prepared solid foods, not infant formulas.

Strangely, however, the report does compare EU standards for baby formula to raw ingredients used in the preparation of the solid foods being examined. Yet another strange thing in addition to comparing contaminant levels with drinking water that doesn't pass a smell test.


The worst arsenic levels in rice come from the US midwest and south. This isn't an outsourcing problem.



Is there reason to expect heavy metals to be present only in baby foods, and not commonly available groceries?

Are only babies at risk, or are we all?


Babies are at much higher risk than adults are. High amounts of lead as a child can significantly cripple your brain, while the same exposure as an adult has reduced (but considerable) effects.


I get that. The question is whether there are the same high levels on all foods, or there is something very wrong on baby food pipelines only. And which food types are the most affected, which I didn't manage to understand from a cursory look at the document.


Hard to say. It could be the supply chains used for baby foods. It could have to do with the additional processing of baby foods concentrating the contaminants or making them more readily accessible.


The EU should sell a food and baby product certification to companies in other countries for products that meet their health and safety standards. I live in the US and I would pay a significant premium products with an official EU health and safety certification.


I didn't read the entire report, so I may have missed it, but where is this stuff coming from? It seems to say that the final product has higher counts than the raw ingredients, that's a result of... concentrating all the stuff I guess?

"Voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients—Manufacturers should voluntarily find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals, or phase out products that have high amounts of ingredients that frequently test high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice;"


> I didn't read the entire report, so I may have missed it, but where is this stuff coming from?

Various places. One of the culprits, arsenic in rice, is a problem that was exacerbated by the use of arsenic-containing pesticides in fields where cotton was previously grown. It also simply appears to be a plant that picks up a lot of heavy metals.

Some rice brands are publishing the results of their testing for arsenic: https://www.lundberg.com/faq/product

It's an interesting FAQ with some other factoids, too... apparently their quinoa doesn't have a detectable amount of arsenic. Brown rice syrup has the same concentration of arsenic as the rice it is made from. And so on.


My guess is the soil and fertilizer. But it may be fertilizer from the past too.


It seems we've heard this before but it was out of China, and dealing with infant formula. Is this a quality control problem, production, or sourcing issue?


The china thing was contamination with melamine mostly, not heavy metals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal


maybe a dumb question, but how do we know this is actually a problem? How did they determine what levels were harmful? And ppb seems like an odd unit to use, given that you consume very different volumes of various things.




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