Arsenic and other toxic metals have been found in many leading brands of baby food sold in the UK including Organix, Hipp, Nestle and Holle. According to the Telegraph, research in the journal Food Chemistry says that feeding infants twice a day on such store-bought baby foods — including rice porridge, often the first solid food given to a baby — can increase their exposure to arsenic by up to fifty times, as compared to babies who are breast fed alone.
While the level of the the toxins in the baby foods does not exceed official safety limits, scientists are calling for new guidelines to restrict these substances in food and especially in young children. Arsenic and other heavy metals are often found in food as plants such as rice, wheat and oats absorb them from the soil; arsenic has been found in chicken feed, as previously reported on Care2.
Currently, the daily safe intake limit for arsenic set by the World Health Organisation is two micrograms for every kilogram of body weight, but this regulation was suspended earlier this year, in the wake of more evidence linking arsenic to cancer.
The authors of the study, who are from the Unit of Metals and Health at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, tested nine different brands of baby food, which were intended for children from the age of four months old and up, and nine baby milk formulas. When compared to breast milk, the baby foods had elevated levels of toxic contaminants as measured in micrograms (one microgram is equivalent to a millionth of a gram, or 35 billionths of an ounce). The researchers say that
“Alarmingly, these complementary foods may also introduce high amounts of toxic elements such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and uranium, mainly from their raw materials.
“These elements have to be kept at an absolute minimum in food products intended for infant consumption.
“In infant foods, the high concentrations of arsenic in the rice-based foods are of particular concern.”
Indeed, the Telegraph, states that “experts now believe there are no safe limits for arsenic and manufacturers should be making more efforts to remove it from their food.” A statement from Andrew Meharg, a biogeochemist at Aberdeen University, underscores this:
“For an adult with an average consumption of rice every day, it makes little difference, but for young babies who are the most vulnerable receptors we should be doing everything we can to reduce that risk. You don’t want DNA damage during infant development.
“There are ways to decrease the toxic load in food. It is only recently that we have started using rice in baby foods and formulas. You can reduce the arsenic in infant foods very rapidly by sourcing the rice from different parts of the world. You can reduce it by four or five fold by carefully selecting the right rice.”
Dr. Karin Ljung, who led the Swedish research, emphasized that it is best to feed babies only breast milk until they are about six months old as the mother’s body seems to filter out the toxic contaminants.
According to M&D India, manufacturers have said that the levels are too low to cause damage and that they do not post a health risk. Some manufacturers, such as Nestle, pointed out that they do not recommend feeding cereals to infants who are younger than six years old.
Somehow, one gets the feeling that most–as in many, as in all–parents will not feel too comfortable feeding an infant anything with even a ‘low level’ of arsenic.
According to Medline Plus, exposure to arsenic can cause numerous problems, including (if one is exposed to low levels of the substance over a long period of time), changes in the color of one’s skin and small warts. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can result in death.
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