Arsenic in Baby Food Sparks Recalls, Manufacturing Changes

Beech-Nut has issued a recall and says it will stop selling all single-grain rice cereal because of high arsenic levels.

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

Beech-Nut has issued a recall and says it will stop selling all single-grain rice cereal after Alaska state officials discovered high arsenic levels during routing sampling, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement released earlier this week. The company simultaneously announced it will recall the lot of products tested in Alaska, but sold nationwide.

Details about the recall can be found here.

According to the FDA statement, the company “is concerned about the ability to consistently obtain rice flour well-below the FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic.”

“Beech-Nut is doing what all baby food manufacturers should have done years ago -- figure out a way to make food safely or stop selling products that are dangerous. Would any baby food executives want their children eating food with arsenic in it?" said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog Teresa Murray.

There has been heightened awareness of levels of toxic ingredients in baby food since a February congressional report found alarming levels of metals in several popular brands, including Beech-Nut. Toxic metals can cause brain damage and harm neurological development in babies. Congress and consumer safety advocates criticized both the FDA and the baby food manufacturers.

A month after that report, the FDA said it wanted to work with baby food manufacturers to reduce metals in food. After introducing the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, the FDA in April announced its “Closer to Zero” plan to get toxic substances such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury to “as low as possible” levels in baby food. The FDA will be studying the issue for up to a year.

Make it safe or stop making it

Congress is considering legislation that would require baby food manufacturers to test their products. The Baby Food Safety Act was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and others in March. It would require foods to have much lower levels of metals.

“But we shouldn’t have to wait for a law to protect our children. All baby food companies should immediately recall all foods that contain shamefully high and potentially hazardous levels of metals,” Murray said.

“Heavy metals are poisons to those beautiful little brains,” Cárdenas said in a press briefing Thursday. “They strip our children of the ability to think, they strip our children of their ability to grow to their full potential, and these are things that shouldn’t happen, not in the United States of America,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), one of the bill's sponsors in the House.

FamilyHealth

James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.