Hi Reddit! We are Gary Harki, an investigative editor, Celine Castronuovo, a reporter covering the FDA and Stu Kaustuv a long-time Congressional reporter. We have spent more than six months looking into the presence of heavy metals in baby food for Bloomberg Law.   

We sent 33 baby food products purchased from Amazon and groceries in the Washington, DC area to an accredited lab and found that all but one had significant levels of at least two of three heavy metals: lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Heavy metals are known to lower IQ, slow development, and create other serious health issues.   

The Food and Drug Administration has known about the dangers of substances like lead and arsenic for decades. So have Congress and manufacturers.  Yet the FDA, which has come under fire for a wide range of failures in regulating food safety, has set few enforceable limits for heavy metals baby foods and its timeline for doing so stretches out for years.

So, Reddit, what questions do you have?

EDIT: Thanks for all the great questions! We're signing off now. You can read the interactive story here and listen to our podcast on the topic.

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/eyvux738x5ba1.jpg

Comments: 58 • Responses: 9  • Date: 

lamaatetheass12 karma

Have you looked into the heavy metals commonly found in tatoo ink made in the US? The EU Commission has a great study on the common use of lead, cadmium, and other dangerous metals in almost all US based inks. Also, what about heavy metal transfers, in utero, by the mother to children before birth (e.g. Minamata Bay or from other sources such as smoking (polonium poisoning))?

bloomberglaw6 karma

For this story, we focused specifically on heavy metal concentrations in baby foods and the FDA's policy in this area. Studies we mention in our story show how early heavy metal exposure can lower IQ, slow development, and create other serious health problems. --Celine Castronuovo

bloomberglaw11 karma

We are porting over one question we got from the story on social media:

"While the article shows the ppb results for various heavy metals, what concentrations of heavy metals are problematic or, conversely, tolerable?"

bloomberglaw8 karma

Good question! Any amount can cause health problems but whether it’s possible to fully eliminate these metals is debatable. Many of the people talked to for this story say that's not realistic. You want as little as you can.

The proposed Baby Food Safety Act set limits at between 5 ppb and 15 ppb, depending on the metal and whether or not it is cereal. The reason for the variation is that it depends on how much of a food kids are expected to eat and what that food’s metal content is projected to be as to what’s considered tolerable. The more you eat of a given food, the more metals from that food build up in your system.

For instance, the guidances the FDA has outlined for lead in juice products are 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for other juices. The thinking is that kids consume more apple juice than others.

The doctors I talked for this story believe 5 ppb is a reasonable upper limit.

- Gary

asianinindia8 karma

Is there a chance the FDA will ever be taken to task on their lack of regulation?

bloomberglaw4 karma

Great question. Heavy metals in baby foods is an issue that has existed for some time. But as former FDA associate commissioner for foods David Acheson told us in an interview, the FDA's response to heavy metals has been one of "putting out fires" rather than implementing a "fundamental strategic plan.”

Lawmakers have put pressure on FDA to address this, and as Congress looked into heavy metals in baby food in 2021, the FDA started its new program Closer to Zero program aiming to set standards and lower concentrations of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.

It's likely we will see continued pressure on the FDA on this. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) told us he plans to introduce a bill again this Congress, called the Baby Food Safety Act. The legislation would limit the levels of inorganic arsenic to between 10 and 15 ppb, cadmium and lead to between 5 and 10 ppb and mercury to 2 ppb — a more stringent standard for all baby foods than Closer to Zero’s guidance on juices.

--Celine Castronuovo

KenEsq6 karma

Are the companies that sell these products knowingly selling these products with high metal content or is it negligence on the part of people in the manufacturing process?

bloomberglaw7 karma

It's safe to say the companies, which manufacture and sell these products, know the metal content in them. I think in most cases, they would argue they're doing a good job and do not have "high" levels. That, of course, is what's up for debate - what's low enough?

The House subcommittee that investiated argues the levels are not low enough.

You can read their findings here and here. (Didn't link to the source on the House website because with the new Congress, their location has changed.)

- Gary

CaptainIncredible3 karma

HOW does the metal content get into the product?

Is it from 'slop' in the manufacturing process? Are these metals somehow inherent in the food chain?

Correct me if I am wrong, but from what I understand, something like a baby food jar of carrots is basically carrots. They take carrots, boil them until they are soft, mash them, package them, and sell them.

Is the metal content somehow in the carrots themselves because it was in the soil? Is it from pesticides or fertilizer? Is the metal somehow introduced during the production process?

bloomberglaw1 karma

Most of the metals found in baby foods are absorbed by the plants they are made from as they grow.

Think of it like this: Processes like mining and manufacturing release tiny particles of metal into the air. Those particles eventually fall to the ground, get in the groundwater and end up being absorbed by crops like rice and carrots as they grow.

When those crops are picked they already contain most if not all of the heavy metals the final, manufactured baby foods will contain. That's why Health Babies Bright Futures just released a report on managing the foods in even homemade baby foods.

Two things happen during the food manufacturing process that can increase that content. First, simply concentrating the vegetables or grains also can concentrate the levels of metals. That jar of baby food doesn't contain one carrot, it's a lot of carrots. The second is that vitamins and minerals added to baby foods can also contain small amounts of heavy metals. - Gary

Nixplosion1 karma

As well all know, money is the way to force change. So, do you think regulation through litigation is the answer here? A class action suit, or thousands of individual suits against the manufacturers and FDA would be enough to force change in the ways that allow metals to end up in the food?

bloomberglaw0 karma

In terms of litigation, some of the class action suits out there now, which focus on advertising and claims made by the companies, have stalled or been thrown out. The lawsuit by the Cantabrana family focusing on whether their son has autism continues. I think the science will continue evolve and if the link between health problems and these metals continues to get stronger, more lawsuits are likely and that could drive change. People are going to continue to study this.

- Gary

Lamy2Kluvah1 karma

In your opinion, is this the fault of the FDA, or lawmakers for not providing the FDA with the necessary tools to combat this issue?

bloomberglaw-1 karma

In your opinion, is this the fault of the FDA, or lawmakers (politicians or appointment management) for not providing the FDA with the necessary tools to combat this issue?

The FDA argues that they have to balance the metal content in products with availability and that some of these metals appear naturally in the environment.

The general consensus from sources we’ve talked to is that the FDA could do more.

Here’s a little more from Stu’s interview with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi that didn’t make the story:

“They're acting way too slowly. And I think as for why that is occurring, I'm not sure except that you know, there is a certain inertia, initial resistance to moving perhaps more rapidly than they are. And it's also possible that there's industry pressure that is preventing more rapid implementation of this Closer to Zero program.”

“I think that the bottom line is that, you know, parents desperately want the FDA to do his job and regulate these heavy metals and baby food. And they also want industry to be responsive, which they're not, and we can't just expect industry to regulate itself. It doesn't work, as you can see from your own test results.”

If you want to read more about the food problems within FDA, read this Politico examination of the problem wider from April.

- Gary

PeanutSalsa1 karma

Why are these baby food manufacturing companies putting heavy metals in baby food they manufacture?

bloomberglaw1 karma

The issue is complex and multifaceted. One aspect of the problem with baby foods is that heavy metals can wind up in foods before they're even processed by manufacturers. One example we note in the story is inorganic arsenic, which rice can absorb naturally as it grows in water. The presence of these metals in the environment is an issue the FDA has said it's taking into account as it develops action levels for metals in baby foods.

--Celine Castronuovo