Dear Co-op Shoppers:
On Saturday, February 6, our Co-op was alerted that high levels of heavy metals were detected in some Earth’s Best and HappyBaby baby foods. (A Congressional report summarizing the situation is available here.) We made the decision to pull all these products off our shelves until we have more detailed information.
On Friday, February 12, we received statements from both companies attesting their products are safe, tested rigorously, and comply with all FDA standards. (Read the responses from Earth’s Best Organic and Happy Family Organics.) Both brands are certified organic. We have no reason to assume that other brands are any safer and have decided to resume selling these products.
Our national co-op association, National Co-op Grocers (NCG), is engaged with these brands. NCG reports that in some instances, the companies have reformulated their products in alignment with one of the report’s recommendations, voluntarily removing ingredients that are high in heavy metals, like rice, and phasing out other products. NCG is advocating for new federal regulations but until then, NCG’s position is that organic baby food brands need to take voluntary measures to establish a safe ceiling for the presence of harmful heavy metals in their products, rigorously test their finished products to ensure that they fall below the threshold, and be fully transparent with consumers about their efforts to bring the presence of these heavy metals to safe levels.
We encourage caregivers to study the issue, consider avoiding high-risk baby foods (sweet potatoes, apples, rice, along with grape and apple juice) while providing a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains (oats, barley, couscous, and quinoa), and lean protein, and try making their own baby foods using simple organic ingredients. We are replenishing our supply of baby food mills, which we will sell at cost to support this practice.
Here is an article 5 Baby Foods with Arsenic and Lead – and Safer Choices. Below is advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Consumer Reports on how to reduce children’s exposure to heavy metals.
- Check your water. Heavy metals can get into tap water: for example, arsenic can contaminate well water, and older pipes may contain lead. You can contact your local health department to have your water tested if this is a concern.
- Breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding, rather than formula feeding, also can help reduce exposure to metals. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about six months.
- Make healthy fish choices. Some types of fish can be high in the form of mercury called methylmercury and other metals. Of most concern are large, predatory fish that eat other fish and live longer, such as shark, orange roughy, swordfish, and albacore/white tuna. Eating too much-contaminated fish can harm a child’s developing nervous system. But fish is also an excellent source of protein and other nutrients children need, and many are low in mercury. Look for better options like light tuna (solid or chunk), salmon, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
- Serve a variety of foods. Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables (wash in cool water before preparing and serving), grains, and lean protein. Offer toddlers and young children sliced or pureed whole fruits rather than juice. Eating a variety of healthy foods that are rich in essential nutrients can lower the exposure to metals and other contaminants found in some foods.
- Switch up your grains. Fortified infant cereals can be a good source of nutrition for babies, but rice cereal does not need to be the first or only cereal used. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from groundwater than other crops. You can include a variety of grains in your baby’s diet, including oat, barley, couscous, quinoa, farro, and bulgur. Multi-grain infant cereals can be a good choice. Try to avoid using rice milk and brown rice syrup, which is sometimes used as a sweetener in processed toddler foods.
- Consider making your own baby food. Because heavy metals can also get into food from food manufacturing and packaging, consider making your own baby food fresh at home. Use a blender or food processor, or mash softer foods with a fork. You can feed your baby raw bananas (mashed), but most other fruits and vegetables should be cooked first. Homemade baby food may spoil more quickly than store-bought products, so store it in the refrigerator and check for any signs it has gone bad before serving it.
Choosing & Cooking Rice for Your Children
Keep in mind that, among different types of rice, brown rice tends to have the highest arsenic levels. White basmati and sushi rice tend to have lower levels. When making rice from scratch, rinse it first. Cook it in extra water and then drain off the excess when’s it’s done.
- Limit your child’s intake of the highest-risk baby foods. These include rice, sweet potatoes, apple juice, and grape juice. Rice cereal was once considered the best first food for babies, but the FDA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations say it’s not the only option. Other whole grains, such as oatmeal, are good choices. In CR’s 2018 tests, eating less than 2.5 servings per day (a serving is ½ cup) of the baby oatmeal cereals we looked at did not pose a risk.
- Ease up on the fruit juice. CR’s 2019 testing of fruit juices found high levels of lead and arsenic in several products. The subcommittee report also noted excessive levels of heavy metals in fruit juice. Plus, fruit juice is not as nutritious as parents may think. “Even 100 percent fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit over whole fruit,” says Amy Keating, RD, a nutritionist at Consumer Reports. “It can contribute extra calories to a child’s diet and drinking a lot of it has been linked to dental caries (cavities) and may lead to weight gain and obesity.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the amount of fruit juice kids drink, and that babies under the age of 1 not be given juice at all. For infants, formula or breast milk should be the only beverage they drink. For older children water and milk are the best choices.
- Consider making your own. There’s no reason why a child or infant can’t eat the same foods as the rest of the family. This won’t completely reduce the amount of heavy metals in the diet—depending on the food, it may have naturally higher levels. But it does eliminate the risk of any heavy metals from additives used in the food.
Of course, the foods should be age appropriate and prepared in a way that makes it easy for the child to eat. “At first, it is best for the foods to have a very smooth texture. For instance, you can cook some broccoli and purée it or mash up some avocado for your baby,” Keating says. Talk to your pediatrician about ways to ensure your child is getting enough vitamins and minerals, because many baby foods are enriched or fortified with certain nutrients.
Making your own also means that you can potentially reduce the heavy metals in rice. In CR’s 2014 tests, white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. had on average half as much inorganic arsenic as most other types. In addition, cooking rice the way you would pasta—in a large amount of water, then draining it—lowers the arsenic content of the rice.
- Minimize baby food snacks. Puffs, teething biscuits, and crackers are among the products that are more likely to be high in heavy metals. Plus, Keating says, they’re highly processed foods. “They tend to have far more of the things you don’t want in your diet—additives, added sugars, sodium, and refined flours—and increasingly research is showing that highly processed foods are harmful to health overall, possibly raising the risk of cancer, heart disease, and obesity,” she says.
- Vary the foods you feed your child. When you eat an array of different types of whole foods, you get an array of nutrients. So alternate the vegetables you give your child, for instance. Plus rotating foods may help you avoid overconsumption of heavy metals and provide nutrients (like vitamin C and zinc) that may help offset some of the damage heavy metals do to the body.
Sources for Making Your own Baby Food