Submitted by bloomberglaw t3_108g6zt in IAmA

Hi Reddit! We are Gary Harki, an investigative editor, Celine Castronuovo, a reporter covering the FDA and Stu Kaustuv a long-time Congressional reporter. We have spent more than six months looking into the presence of heavy metals in baby food for Bloomberg Law.   

We sent 33 baby food products purchased from Amazon and groceries in the Washington, DC area to an accredited lab and found that all but one had significant levels of at least two of three heavy metals: lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Heavy metals are known to lower IQ, slow development, and create other serious health issues.   

The Food and Drug Administration has known about the dangers of substances like lead and arsenic for decades. So have Congress and manufacturers.  Yet the FDA, which has come under fire for a wide range of failures in regulating food safety, has set few enforceable limits for heavy metals baby foods and its timeline for doing so stretches out for years.

So, Reddit, what questions do you have?

EDIT: Thanks for all the great questions! We're signing off now. You can read the interactive story here and listen to our podcast on the topic.




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trippiler t1_j3s8gev wrote

What made you choose to quote an organisation like the EWG, who are not considered credible by the scientific community, over toxicologists?


Roto-Wan t1_j3u5suy wrote

Did you perform a control of "homemade" baby food by mashing a few random sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.?


lamaatetheass t1_j3s1xn1 wrote

Have you looked into the heavy metals commonly found in tatoo ink made in the US? The EU Commission has a great study on the common use of lead, cadmium, and other dangerous metals in almost all US based inks. Also, what about heavy metal transfers, in utero, by the mother to children before birth (e.g. Minamata Bay or from other sources such as smoking (polonium poisoning))?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3s38b5 wrote

For this story, we focused specifically on heavy metal concentrations in baby foods and the FDA's policy in this area. Studies we mention in our story show how early heavy metal exposure can lower IQ, slow development, and create other serious health problems. --Celine Castronuovo


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3s0eu2 wrote

We are porting over one question we got from the story on social media:

"While the article shows the ppb results for various heavy metals, what concentrations of heavy metals are problematic or, conversely, tolerable?"


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3s2zde wrote

Good question! Any amount can cause health problems but whether it’s possible to fully eliminate these metals is debatable. Many of the people talked to for this story say that's not realistic. You want as little as you can.

The proposed Baby Food Safety Act set limits at between 5 ppb and 15 ppb, depending on the metal and whether or not it is cereal. The reason for the variation is that it depends on how much of a food kids are expected to eat and what that food’s metal content is projected to be as to what’s considered tolerable. The more you eat of a given food, the more metals from that food build up in your system.

For instance, the guidances the FDA has outlined for lead in juice products are 10 ppb for apple juice and 20 ppb for other juices. The thinking is that kids consume more apple juice than others.

The doctors I talked for this story believe 5 ppb is a reasonable upper limit.

- Gary


velifer t1_j3s6ux6 wrote

>Any amount can cause health problems

Simply not the case.

Even in your OP, the post says "significant" instead of "detectable." You're abusing language to sensationalize the issues, and losing credibility with anyone who has any background in environmental toxicology, which would include the people at the agencies you're expecting to do something.


>The more you eat of a given food, the more metals from that food build up in your system.

This is a high-school level of understanding of biomagnification. It doesn't work like that.


There is a story here, as there are some baby foods tested that had heavy metal limits above what the EPA has set for drinking water. That's not a health crisis, as no baby is sucking down liters of the same baby food every day, but it is something that should get more attention.

But stop.

This is why scientists hate journalists.

Stop sensationalizing it. Stop overselling your findings.

You sent some samples to a lab. You got results.

You can pander to your readers and maybe even some legislators, but you'll get ridiculed and ignored by the regulators and industry.

But you're more about page clicks than public health anyway...


DerHeinzW t1_j3sdzxr wrote

> > The more you eat of a given food, the more metals from that food build up in your system.

> This is a high-school level of understanding of biomagnification. It doesn't work like that.

Well, how does it work then? The statement does not say there is a linear relationship or anything else like that, just that “the more you eat, the more metals will accumulate”. Unless the function is not monotonic, which seems unlikely (at some point the amount of metals accumulated will be less?), this seems like a true statement. Maybe too trivially so to be relevant, but true nonetheless.

I wish your comment was more constructive. It contains a lot of criticisms, without any of the actual substance of how things purportedly are. As a parent, I am willing to consider what you say, but with just “no wrong” there’s not much to go on by here?

> as no baby is sucking down liters of the same baby food every day, but it is something that should get more attention.

My baby is too young to be interested in drinking any amount of water. We try, but he does not accept it. This is normal for that age. So he ends up eating amounts of similar baby foods every day. Not liters, but still a lot compared to his body weight.

Once again, I’m not sure what to make of this. If my baby does “suck down” large amounts of the same baby food every day, should we be worried or not?


velifer t1_j3so3zu wrote

>If my baby does “suck down” large amounts of the same baby food every day, should we be worried or not?

This is medical advice from reddit, so... um... ...yeah:

Variety is important, from a nutritional standpoint and from a risk standpoint. Going with one brand and one ingredient and one lot number every day means that you're multiplying all the deficiencies and excesses.

Tuna can have fairly high levels of mercury, but even at 1ppm (the concentrations in the OP's report are a thousand times lower) we excrete the metals in a full serving of mercury-tainted fish in under a week. Most adult humans can metabolize/excrete more than 0.021 milligrams of mercury a day.

Maybe don't feed your child on a steady diet of only Gerber Pureed Tuna.

As for biomagnification, we're extremely complicated machines. Even with similar doses and routes of exposure, metabolism, excretion, and any negative effects are dependent on levels of things like glutathione or peroxidase, some of which are triggered by the presence and action of heavy metals themselves. It's not chemical in, chemical stays, like the diagrams in textbooks.


TossNWashMeClean t1_j3sayku wrote

I've learned not to expect much scientific literacy from people who haven't ever taken a chemistry or physics course and have been in the advertisement matrix for their entire careers.


ShwAlex t1_j3ue1ho wrote

The dose makes the poison, as they say.


Yea if they just made a news article stating the truth without sensationalizing, and cheered the manufacturers on for keeping their foods relatively clean, I think that would be just as great a story as doom and gloom. Why can't we celebrate positive results?


Jfish033 t1_j3sj7ee wrote

Couldnt agree more with this person. These fools look like fools and act like fools. There fools call em out.


asianinindia t1_j3s3cmv wrote

Is there a chance the FDA will ever be taken to task on their lack of regulation?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3s5qgc wrote

Great question. Heavy metals in baby foods is an issue that has existed for some time. But as former FDA associate commissioner for foods David Acheson told us in an interview, the FDA's response to heavy metals has been one of "putting out fires" rather than implementing a "fundamental strategic plan.”

Lawmakers have put pressure on FDA to address this, and as Congress looked into heavy metals in baby food in 2021, the FDA started its new program Closer to Zero program aiming to set standards and lower concentrations of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.

It's likely we will see continued pressure on the FDA on this. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) told us he plans to introduce a bill again this Congress, called the Baby Food Safety Act. The legislation would limit the levels of inorganic arsenic to between 10 and 15 ppb, cadmium and lead to between 5 and 10 ppb and mercury to 2 ppb — a more stringent standard for all baby foods than Closer to Zero’s guidance on juices.

--Celine Castronuovo


asianinindia t1_j3tw7ql wrote

That's good to hear. Even if it will take time. I wonder how adult food is now. And about standards in other countries.


KenEsq t1_j3s7dm4 wrote

Are the companies that sell these products knowingly selling these products with high metal content or is it negligence on the part of people in the manufacturing process?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3sawgb wrote

It's safe to say the companies, which manufacture and sell these products, know the metal content in them. I think in most cases, they would argue they're doing a good job and do not have "high" levels. That, of course, is what's up for debate - what's low enough?

The House subcommittee that investiated argues the levels are not low enough.

You can read their findings here and here. (Didn't link to the source on the House website because with the new Congress, their location has changed.)

- Gary


CaptainIncredible t1_j3sk9h3 wrote

HOW does the metal content get into the product?

Is it from 'slop' in the manufacturing process? Are these metals somehow inherent in the food chain?

Correct me if I am wrong, but from what I understand, something like a baby food jar of carrots is basically carrots. They take carrots, boil them until they are soft, mash them, package them, and sell them.

Is the metal content somehow in the carrots themselves because it was in the soil? Is it from pesticides or fertilizer? Is the metal somehow introduced during the production process?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3srng9 wrote

Most of the metals found in baby foods are absorbed by the plants they are made from as they grow.

Think of it like this: Processes like mining and manufacturing release tiny particles of metal into the air. Those particles eventually fall to the ground, get in the groundwater and end up being absorbed by crops like rice and carrots as they grow.

When those crops are picked they already contain most if not all of the heavy metals the final, manufactured baby foods will contain. That's why Health Babies Bright Futures just released a report on managing the foods in even homemade baby foods.

Two things happen during the food manufacturing process that can increase that content. First, simply concentrating the vegetables or grains also can concentrate the levels of metals. That jar of baby food doesn't contain one carrot, it's a lot of carrots. The second is that vitamins and minerals added to baby foods can also contain small amounts of heavy metals. - Gary


Jfish033 t1_j3sdh86 wrote

This is slander at best. Do yall actually know what your talking about or just going for money. Things that are grown in soil will ALWAYS have lead in them. It leaches up from the soil where These DANGEROUS HEAVY METALS are naturally occuring and here naturally. Unless you want babies eating entirely processed foods your getting lead. Its ok.


Shtune t1_j3seay3 wrote

The amount of lead is what they're arguing is unsafe if you would have read what they posted.


Jfish033 t1_j3seyyl wrote

Yeah but its not unsafe. Did you know you consumed lead today, 100%. If these people were actually smart they would have research showing lead results for varies grown vegetables showing that the product should have lower amounts. Instead they just say its unsafe and not actually comparing it to anything. I mean if carrots have a average amount of lead of 10ppb and your carrot baby food has 10ppb what can you do? Not sell carrots or figure out what chemicals you can add to your process to remove the metal. Do you want more processed foods for your baby or more natural...


By the way the lead and heavy metals are most likely coming from veggies. Its in all soil grown food.


DerHeinzW t1_j3sggad wrote

But soil itself has different amounts of lead. For example, some soil is still contaminated by the use of leaded fuel which has been banned for a while now. The question is not where the lead comes from, but whether the level is considered acceptable or not. A developing brain does not care whether unsafe amounts of lead come from soil or somewhere else. That is the only question I’m interested in settling here: Are these amounts unsafe or not.


DerHeinzW t1_j3shu7v wrote

I don’t understand why I’m downvoted. How is this a controversial opinion? I want to know whether the amount of lead in the food, no matter whether that lead comes from soil or anywhere else, is harmful or not.


Jfish033 t1_j3sjto2 wrote

ANY amount of lead at all above zero is bad. The problem is your not going to live one day without any lead consumed. I think if you realize they are taking about 15 PPB (parts per billion) you will laugh your butt off. Its literally 15 parts of lead per billion. If you ate 1 billion pieces of sand you would get 15 pieces of lead. So if you ate the whole beach youd get 15 sand granules of lead. Seriously its stupid, i think smelling a fart is worse for your mind and body then this stuff they are talking about.


DerHeinzW t1_j3skydz wrote

This „any amount is bad“ does not help. Obviously there is at least a rough limit of lead per day consumed that will not significantly affect a developing brain, vs. an amount that does. I am interested in that limit, and whether it is exceeded here or not.

It’s really not a difficult concept. They might be right, you might be right, but so far I see nothing at all to convince me of either. I know how parts per billion work, I do not know what quantities of lead affect brain development or not.


Jfish033 t1_j3vxela wrote

There is literally no amount that is not bad for you. With this much discussion you can easily go research on the internet and see this. Takes like 5-10 minutes to learn your answer. You've ingested ALOT of lead in your life and your okay. The problem is you cant say lead is ok because it actually does harm your body. IF you wanted to raise the smartest baby in the world i think then you might consider looking into lead consumption but if you just want a healthy baby like every other human in this world then you would probably prioritize them eating veggies vs concerned about lead content of said veggies.


Jfish033 t1_j3tafk6 wrote

Theres none that is safe, zero. It all degrades brain receptors. You ever smell a fart? You probably lost more brain cells from that. You are not thinking to well. 15 PARTS PER BILLION. Please research how much a billion is and realize your talking about something probably 1/100 the size of a piece of sand.


Jfish033 t1_j3sidmf wrote

No amount of lead is safe according the the WHO and USA government. Zero. That's the problem. Its not the level its what should be deemed normal amount vs not normal. And these PPB amounts are really low as is. Yes varying soil has different amounts, the problem is they all have some. My whole point is where is the labs for multiple samples of each vegetable to show some form of bad judgments by the manufactures. The fact the manufactures say there doing a good job, you might have to believe them until proven otherwise. Its a stupid lawsuit trying to grab money because unless they dont use naturally grown foods they will have lead, but these people above can sue and win because the law has limits that are not set according to enough research and thought.


Root grown veggies have the most heavy metals being that the distance to leech is much less. Potatoes, carrots, thing found in baby foods and our foods.


DerHeinzW t1_j3sk0g4 wrote

> No amount of lead is safe according the the WHO and USA government. Zero. That's the problem. Its not the level its what should be deemed normal amount vs not normal. And these PPB amounts are really low as is.

The original text says the proposed limit would be between 5 ppb vs. 15 ppb. Would that be a reasonable limit? Is that being exceeded here?

There must be some level that makes sense. We can’t let obviously contaminated soil with lead levels that will definitely cause cognitive issues be acceptable, so where is the line.

> The fact the manufactures say there doing a good job, you might have to believe them until proven otherwise.

Why would I care about what the manufacturer thinks or says? I care about whether the levels of heavy metal are safe or not.


Jfish033 t1_j3t9ukk wrote

No amount of lead is safe. Contaminated soil.... Its in all soil everywhere always. Its naturally in all soil, since forever. Your baby will be no dumber then you are because of 15ppb. Do you think your parents were worried about lead? Your overthinking things, maybe its the lead you consumed from when you were a baby lol.


Jfish033 t1_j3talck wrote

The whole earth is also contaminated from the 1000+ nuclear bombs we detonated in the air, that blew throughout the globe. You'll be OK, we adapt.


IAmAModBot t1_j3s15s6 wrote

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Nixplosion t1_j3s6ubu wrote

As well all know, money is the way to force change. So, do you think regulation through litigation is the answer here? A class action suit, or thousands of individual suits against the manufacturers and FDA would be enough to force change in the ways that allow metals to end up in the food?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3s8ola wrote

In terms of litigation, some of the class action suits out there now, which focus on advertising and claims made by the companies, have stalled or been thrown out. The lawsuit by the Cantabrana family focusing on whether their son has autism continues. I think the science will continue evolve and if the link between health problems and these metals continues to get stronger, more lawsuits are likely and that could drive change. People are going to continue to study this.

- Gary


velifer t1_j3sos8c wrote

>The lawsuit by the Cantabrana family focusing on whether their son has autism continues.

The only scientifically proven predictor of autism is if one or more parent has a spectrum disorder, but hey, let's let a JURY decide what's good science.


Neurocor t1_j3s96el wrote

Is this all just to support someones short position? upcoming short position? or to lessen the burden for an acquisition ? or to help box up and trash a company so competitors can further monopolize their market share ?

Hard to believe this is done for utruistic purposes


blergola t1_j3tejs4 wrote

Bloomberg Law is the continuation of the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) which has had an environmental law publication for decades. Just because Mike bought the publisher doesn’t mean everything they do is for stonks.


Lamy2Kluvah t1_j3savcy wrote

In your opinion, is this the fault of the FDA, or lawmakers for not providing the FDA with the necessary tools to combat this issue?


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3scp0m wrote

>In your opinion, is this the fault of the FDA, or lawmakers (politicians or appointment management) for not providing the FDA with the necessary tools to combat this issue?

The FDA argues that they have to balance the metal content in products with availability and that some of these metals appear naturally in the environment.

The general consensus from sources we’ve talked to is that the FDA could do more.

Here’s a little more from Stu’s interview with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi that didn’t make the story:

“They're acting way too slowly. And I think as for why that is occurring, I'm not sure except that you know, there is a certain inertia, initial resistance to moving perhaps more rapidly than they are. And it's also possible that there's industry pressure that is preventing more rapid implementation of this Closer to Zero program.”

“I think that the bottom line is that, you know, parents desperately want the FDA to do his job and regulate these heavy metals and baby food. And they also want industry to be responsive, which they're not, and we can't just expect industry to regulate itself. It doesn't work, as you can see from your own test results.”

If you want to read more about the food problems within FDA, read this Politico examination of the problem wider from April.

- Gary


PeanutSalsa t1_j3sb9t8 wrote

Why are these baby food manufacturing companies putting heavy metals in baby food they manufacture?


Jfish033 t1_j3se84o wrote

They aren't. Lead is in soil, its a naturally occurring element. Its on the periodic table. Anything that grows in soil leeches up SUPER DUPER small amounts of lead. 15 ppb is literally if you got 1 billion pieces of sand 15 of them are lead. A billion is a big number bigger then most people can imagine. These people are ridiculously trying to scare more people.

This literally forces the manufactures to not use fruits/vegitables in their food. Which leads to even more processed unhealthy foods because someone is sueing someone over something. I think most people would want their babies eating healthy foods instead of processed to death foods to avoid a rational amount of lead.


DerHeinzW t1_j3sfozz wrote

So what are the safe levels, and are they exceeded here or not? I’m aware that there may be trace amount of heavy metals in even (or especially) the most natural food, but I’m also aware that some circumstances in manufacturing lead to levels that are decidedly over that.


Jfish033 t1_j3tapvd wrote

This article did exactly what they wanted. It got you scared for no reason. Your safe. Your kid will have less lead exposure then you did and be just as dumb.


trippiler t1_j3slius wrote

Well according to the article, a safe level of inorganic arsenic is 100ppb according to the FDA and zero of the baby foods they tested exceeded that.

I'd also like to point out that heavy metals are natural, and whether a food product is allowed to be sold as 'natural' has no bearing on the amount of heavy metals present.


DerHeinzW t1_j3smfbf wrote

> Well according to the article, a safe level of inorganic arsenic is 100ppb according to the FDA and zero of the baby foods they tested exceeded that.

Thank you, finally something substantial to start going by. Now two questions: Is what the FDA says consensus among the scientific community, and what about e.g. lead and cadmium?

> I'd also like to point out that heavy metals are natural, and whether a food product is allowed to be sold as 'natural' has no bearing on the amount of heavy metals present.

I understand, and I don‘t care. Whether it is considered „natural“ or not, whether it comes from soil or from anywhere else, has no bearing on the development of a brain. The only thing I care about is whether the levels are safe or not. However it got to that level: If it’s safe, good. If not, then it’s bad, and measures have to be taken.


trippiler t1_j3sp90b wrote

You can check what levels are allowed for various foods in Europe here which tend to be on the conservative side.

At the moment, research does not seem to be strong. For example, according to the quoted source:

> We systematically reviewed relevant studies published through December 30, 2018 and identified 14 studies on iAs and 37 studies on Pb exposure and their respective associations with ASD. Among them, 8 (53.3%) and 19 (51.3%) studies reported a positive association for iAs and Pb, respectively, and none reported a sole inverse association.

Even though the article says there is "consistent evidence supporting a link between early exposure to the heavy metal and a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder".


bloomberglaw OP t1_j3sdeyc wrote

The issue is complex and multifaceted. One aspect of the problem with baby foods is that heavy metals can wind up in foods before they're even processed by manufacturers. One example we note in the story is inorganic arsenic, which rice can absorb naturally as it grows in water. The presence of these metals in the environment is an issue the FDA has said it's taking into account as it develops action levels for metals in baby foods.

--Celine Castronuovo


AverageSalmon t1_j3u8hzb wrote

What do you expect to happen from publication of your discovery? Any legislation, regulations, e.t.c?


Any-Plankton6742 t1_j3uq1k9 wrote

Which of these 2 arsenic type was found in the baby formula?
inorganic arsenic compounds organic arsenic compounds

People are most likely exposed to inorganic arsenic through drinking water. This is especially true in areas with water sources that naturally have higher levels of inorganic arsenic. People can also be exposed to inorganic arsenic by eating such foods as rice and some fruit juices.


TJMBeav t1_j3yibo8 wrote

We ask questions yet get no answers? Very helpful.


ARandomDrifter t1_j3zibir wrote

Toxic baby food is definitely a no go for me dog. On another note; what do y'all think about putting those dryer sheets in the wash? I'm all about no static, but they're pretty gosh darn uncomfortable to handle for the few seconds you have to hold them from box to machine.

It's the grit, the thread count. Complete lack of pizazz if I'll be honest, areas to improve here for sure. From a design element I'm looking for something (dare I say) sexier. I'm thinking we take the science that encompasses these dryer sheets and make a more aesthetic form factor.

Here's what I'm thinking, myself personally. Just a dart on the board, but what if we had them shaped in mini drying racks? Sure it'll cause a racket when they're rumbling and tumbling in the dryer, gosh what a noise that would make. But wow zoo eee mama think of the situational irony, it's almost enough to make you cry. I'm crying while making this; I'm open to admitting that, being true to how you feel about things is very important to maintaining a healthy mental landscape.

Back on the drying rack drying sheets (I've dubbed the potential venture "dry dry" because repetition catches the eye of those living in a day to day world. We really have to think about the working class consumer; they're the bread and butter to an honest life style here. I remember growing up myself, it feel so long ago if I'll be honest with you; there was a time when I wasn't grown, but yet I grew up and now here I am.

But I digress, we should really be getting back to dry dry (trademarked of course). I'm not really sure what goes into trademarking a product, especially so when the aforementioned product has yet to enter the research and development stage of product creation. But I'm definitely calling dips here.

What absolutely needs to be know here though; toxic baby food is bad for our youth, I presume they wouldn't enjoy eating non toxic food (I can't speak for baby's, but I guess we're gonna have to since they somehow are really hamming up this silent treatment game they're playing). I'm simply just trying to bring attention to the fact that dryer sheets really need that zippy wahoo feel when you're getting to that part of your day.


tj_of_the_jungle_ t1_j3zmkwx wrote

If baby food is not to be trusted, what are some alternatives we should feed our children?


Heavy_Detective3550 t1_j43zgu3 wrote

How is it suspected this happens, and passes quality control in the manufacturing processes? Hard to understand why companies would put this on shelves :(