Lake Success-based organic and natural foods maker Hain Celestial is one of several companies cited in a congressional report as having high levels of toxic metals in their baby food.
A congressional investigation found levels of arsenic, lead and other toxic metals that can harm brain development in many popular baby foods, including organic brands, according to the report released last week.
The Hain Celestial Group Inc. said the report is based on outdated information that does not reflect its current practices. The company's brands include the Earth’s Best Organic line of food and other products for babies and older children.
Hain said it met with the FDA last year "to discuss how to better refine" its standards and practices. "Following the meeting, we took several steps to reduce the levels of heavy metals in our finished products – including no longer using brown rice in our products that are primarily rice based, changing other ingredients and conducting additional testing of finished product before shipping," the company said in a statement Thursday.
Hain declined to comment further Monday.
In the congressional report, a U.S. House subcommittee said it requested internal data from seven companies, including Walmart, in 2019 after a nonprofit called Healthy Babies Bright Futures published results of testing it did on baby foods.
Four of the companies — Hain, Gerber, Beech-Nut and Happy Family Organics maker Nurture Inc. — shared documents. The subcommittee said Walmart, Sprout Foods and Campbell Soup Co., which makes Plum Organics baby food, didn’t cooperate.
Arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury — metals that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers harmful to human health — can remain in the environment for decades from past pesticide and herbicide use, said Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with Consumer Reports.
Toxic metals might be more common in baby foods because of the vitamins and minerals added to those foods during processing, he said. Rice, a common ingredient in baby foods, also tends to have high levels of arsenic. Rice is grown in water, and arsenic from the soil dissolves when it comes in contact with water, he said.
Because babies' brains are still developing, there is concern about how those metals could damage that development, Hansen said. By the time symptoms like behavioral problems show up, it can be difficult to trace them back to foods, he said.
Hansen said parents who are concerned should switch to unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The FDA also recommends feeding babies a variety of grain-based cereals, not just those made with rice.
Last August, the FDA finalized guidance for infant rice cereal, recommending it contain no more than 100 parts per billion of arsenic. The subcommittee’s report said Beech-Nut used some ingredients that tested as high as 913 parts per billion for arsenic, while Earth’s Best Organics used ingredients testing as high as 309 parts per billion for arsenic.
The subcommittee, led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, said it wants the FDA to set standards for the presence of heavy metals in baby foods. Manufacturers should be required to test finished products and publish the results, the subcommittee said.
Campbell Soup Co. said it did respond to the subcommittee's questions. In that submission, it noted that the FDA doesn't have standards for heavy metals in baby food. But it said its testing shows that metals in its baby foods are within acceptable limits.
Walmart also said it reached out to the subcommittee, but made clear that any product testing would be managed by its suppliers.
Happy Family Organics said it was disappointed in the report, which it said didn’t make clear that metals and minerals are found in trace amounts in many foods.
Beech-Nut said it is still reviewing the report, but assured parents its baby food is "safe and nutritious."
A message seeking comment was left with Gerber.
With Tory N. Parrish