Arsenic and toxic metals found in baby foods

There have been urgent calls for new more stringent safety rules to control the levels of toxic contaminants in baby foods, since researchers have found that feeding infants twice a day on shop-bought foods can increase levels of arsenic exposure by up to fifty times, and levels of cadmium by up to 150 times. Cadmium is known to cause neurological and kidney damage.

Although none of the levels of toxic elements found in the ready-made foods exceeded official safety limits, long-term exposure is cause for concern. The research, carried out at the Unit of Metals and Health at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, found that these types of complementary foods (complementary because they are introduced to ease the transition from milk-only feeding to solids) introduce toxic elements such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and uranium mainly from their raw materials. Plants absorb heavy metals from the soil in which they are grown.

Arsenic in rice is a concern for infants because it can damage DNA during infant development. No such risk occurs in adults. Rice has only recently been introduced into baby foods, and there are places around the world from where rice can be sourced that would reduce the arsenic load by four or five fold.

The researchers tested nine brands of baby food and nine milk formulas. Compared to breast milk, the baby foods had levels of toxic contaminants elevated by a millionth of a gram. The daily safe limit, previously set by the World Health Organisation at two micrograms per kilogram of body weight, was suspended earlier this year due to concern that even low levels of arsenic can cause cancer.

Source: The Daily Telegraph


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First Published in April 2011

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