Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are chemicals you’d expect to find in rat poison and batteries — not baby formula.
But on Wednesday, the Clean Label Project, an initiative that tests products for industrial and environmental contaminants and rates them, said it found arsenic in 80% of infant formulas, according to USA Today. In fact, the study — which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal — found that certified some organic baby food products had more than twice the amount of arsenic found in the conventional baby foods it tested.
The group looked at 86 different types of baby formulas and checked for more than 130 different toxins ranging from heavy metals to cancer-linked chemicals, the Clean Label Project’s website says.
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“It is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food,” an FDA spokesperson, told USA Today.
Though arsenic was the most common harmful chemical found in baby formulas, cadmium — which is used in batteries and as a plastic stabilizer — was also detected with alarming frequency. The study found that soy-based infant formulas had about seven times more cadmium, used in batteries, than other types of baby formula.
Both arsenic and cadmium are carcinogens that may cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed a regulation which would limit the amount of arsenic allowed in infant rice cereal, but the limit is not yet being enforced.
The Clean Label Project also found lead in 36% of 500 baby food products it tested — a finding that backs up the Environmental Defense Fund’s research which detected lead in about 20% of baby food samples.
The World Health Organization urges women to breastfeed infants if possible, noting that breastmilk has antibodies that are not found in formula, and is an affordable, nutritious food source that can foster healthy development. The WHO also warns that in communities that lack access to safe water, formula that has to be mixed with water can pose an additional risk.
The majority of baby food products and baby formula is sold in North America and Europe — 87% and 66%, respectively, according to Nielsen’s Global Baby Care Report — but formula is becoming more popular in developing countries.
The WHO and UNICEF recommend that mothers try breastfeeding within an hour of their baby’s birth, and continue to breastfeed if it is an option until the infant is 6 months old. At that point, both organizations recommend introducing “nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods.”
But the WHO says “few children receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.” And according to UNICEF, “poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can also lead to stunted growth, which is irreversible and associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.”
Malnutrition and undernutrition are major issues in many developing countries, like Chad and India. Around the world, nearly 155 million children under the age of 5 are stunted, and 52 million children are malnourished, UNICEF reported.
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