While heavy metals do occur naturally in some grains and vegetables, the amounts may be increased when food manufacturers add other ingredients to baby food, like enzymes and vitamin and mineral mixes that are heavily tainted with metals, the report said. Manufacturers rarely test ingredients for mercury.
Investigators also described what they called a “secret” industry presentation to the F.D.A. on Aug. 1, 2019. Representatives of Hain told regulators that testing only individual ingredients in baby food led to an underestimate of the content of heavy metals in the final product.
For example, inorganic arsenic ranged from 28 percent to 93 percent higher in Hain’s finished baby food than had been estimated by tests of the individual ingredients. Half of its brown rice products exceeded 100 parts per billion, according to the report.
The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Beech-Nut, which used ingredients with high levels of arsenic to improve qualities like “crumb softness” in some products, set very liberal thresholds for arsenic and cadmium in its additives, according to the report: 3,000 p.p.b. of cadmium in additives like vitamin mix, and 5,000 p.p.b. of lead in an enzyme additive called BAN 800.
The company used cinnamon that contained 886.9 p.p.b. of lead, according to the report. The company’s standards for cadmium and lead in additive ingredients “far surpass any existing regulatory standard in existence,” the investigators said. Other added spices, like oregano and cumin, were also high in lead.
By comparison, the F.D.A. has said that lead should not exceed 5 p.p.b. in bottled water, 50 p.p.b. in juices and 100 p.p.b. in candy. Cadmium should not exceed 5 p.p.b. in bottled water, the agency has said. The European Union limits cadmium to 15 p.p.b. in infant formula.
“No level of exposure to these metals has been shown to be safe in vulnerable infants,” said Linda McCauley, dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University, who studies environmental health effects.