Study Claims There's Toxic Arsenic in Many Baby Foods: Everything Parents Need to Know

 arsenic in baby food

Earlier this week the Internet was taken by storm when a new study suggested that 80 percent of baby foods and infant formulas contain "alarming" amounts of arsenic, lead, and other dangerous chemicals. Initially, coverage of the study incited concern and outright panic among parents. But a deeper look into the research put forth by this study proves it may be more sensational than informative


The study was conducted by the Clean Label Project, a non-profit organization seeking to foster consumer transparency. The organization claimed to have tested over 530 different varieties of children's snacks, formulas, cereals, and drinks. After it tested all of the products for various "harmful" chemicals, the results apparently showed that 65 percent of the products tested positive for arsenic, 36 percent contained lead, 58 percent had cadmium, and 60 percent had BPA. 

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The Clean Label Project also reported that, in looking only at the infant formulas it tested, 80 percent of them contained higher than acceptable levels of arsenic. The organization even shared the names of companies whose products it claimed tested the worst -- popular brands like Gerber, Plum Organics, and Enfamil were on the list.

At surface level, these numbers are certainly startling. We hear words like "arsenic" and "lead" and immediately think the absolute worst. But as some are now pointing out, there are some serious issues with the Clean Label Project's study and the ways it has presented its numbers to the public. 

One of the first red flags is drawn from the fact that the Clean Label Project has not had its research published in a peer-reviewed journal, according to USA Today. This essentially means that its findings have not been scrutinized by experts, and therefore the research cannot be viewed as academically sound yet. While the numbers the organization presents as fact can be read on an infographic via its website, Clean Label Project has yet to publish any tangible data that legitimizes its claims. 

The second issue lies with the ways the Clean Label Project reported its findings. The organization has not shared insights into the actual levels of contamination it found inside of the tested products. Phrases like "80% contained arsenic" and "36% had lead" do sound alarming, but as Global News reports, the organization has yet to share insights into the actual levels of contamination these products have. 

According to Dr. Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, the numbers presented by the Clean Label Project probably don't mean much. "This may be new info to parents but minerals like arsenic have been in the soil -- and food -- forever," he tells CafeMom. "Baby food and formula on the market by well-respected companies have a history of being both safe and nourishing."

Dr. Ayoob, who also specializes in child nutrition in his own clinic, also shared his skepticism of the recent study, claiming that the organization's refusal to add context to its numbers "borders on irresponsible." 

It is only natural that hearing of "lead" and "arsenic" in our children's foods causes an uproar of parental concern. But it is also important to know that we already ingest many of these "harmful" substances every day. "Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are naturally occurring in the environment so it's not surprising that their presence is detected in infant formulas," Michael Rogers, associate professor and Canadian Research Chair in food nanotechnology, told Global News

Dr. Ayoob shares this perspective, going even further to remind parents of the strict safety regulations imposed on companies that produce foods and formulas for babies. "The last thing any company would ever want is to have a safety problem with a food intended for infants. As a clinician, I'm glad about that -- it gives me confidence about making recommendations," he said.

Essentially, the bottom line is that this study should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. In addition to the unconfirmed science, the numbers are completely decontextualized, and experts agree that the claims are almost certainly misrepresented.

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We know that choosing something as important as food for your kids can be difficult, but studies like this only make things harder on well-meaning parents. When asked for his advice, Dr. Ayoob said, "I'd tell my patients to hold the hysteria and let rational heads prevail." He also claimed that more important than supposed "harmful" chemicals in store-bought food is the actual nutritional content of what you're giving to your kids. "Better to focus on having babies and toddlers accept a wide variety of foods for a balanced diet and a varied palate of flavors," he added.

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