The results of the study were made public by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which conducted the report (pdf) in partnership with a number of groups such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.
Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) tested 168 baby foods and found toxic heavy metals in 95 percent of all containers tested.
A quarter of the foods tested contained all four of the metals that the lab tested for—arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
“Even in the trace amounts found in food, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and erode a child’s IQ,” the report authors, HBBF’s Jane Houlihan and Charlotte Brody, wrote. “The impacts add up with each meal or snack a baby eats.”
The tested products were obtained from stores across the nation. Rice dishes were found to be the most toxic, with arsenic the primary toxic metal of concern, followed by whole milk, white and brown rice, and apple juice. Infant formula was next, the primary toxic metal of concern being lead.
The report authors suggested parents avoid puffs and other snacks made with rice flour and switch to alternatives that are rich in nutrients and low in metals, such as apples, unsweetened applesauce, barley with diced vegetables, and grapes cut in half.
They also suggested avoiding teething biscuits, rice rusks, infant rice cereals, and fruit juices.
Instead of juice, parents can give their children tap water or whole or pureed fruits.
The Food and Drug Administration has also found arsenic in infant rice cereal. The agency said in a 2016 statement that “rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, in part because as rice plants grow, the plant and grain tend to absorb arsenic from the environment more than other crops.”
“Arsenic is not intentionally added to rice grain, and when present in the grain, cannot be completely removed,” it said.
The agency said it proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal earlier that year.
It advised parents to feed babies iron-fortified cereals to be sure she or he is receiving enough of this important nutrient and to not use rice cereal fortified with iron as the only source of nutrients, suggesting other fortified infant cereals such as oat, barley, and multigrain.
“Also based on the FDA’s findings, it would be prudent for pregnant women to consume a variety of foods, including varied grains (such as wheat, oats, and barley), for good nutrition. This advice is consistent with long-standing nutrition guidance to pregnant women from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to have half of their grains consist of whole grains,” the agency stated.
Researchers in 2012 found organic brown rice syrup, used as a sweetener in some organic foods as an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup, may introduce arsenic into those products.
The authors said there are no current U.S. regulations applicable to arsenic in food and said there “is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food.”