Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is an award winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. Her 16 year old son has a permanent brain injury as a result of being acutely Lead poisoned when he was just 7 months old. She began testing consumer goods for toxicants in 2009 and was the parent-advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. Tamara uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods and soil for toxicants, including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Arsenic.
Friday – February 5, 2021
Yesterday the news cycle included (what appeared to most readers to be “new“) stories regarding findings of high levels of heavy metal toxicants in baby foods from popular brands (including organic brands). Links to a few of the stories (in case you missed them):
- The New York Times Coverage of the issue
- CNN’s coverage of the issue
- USA Today’s coverage of the issue
- Washington Post’s coverage of the issue
- Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the issue
This (heavy metals contamination found in commercial baby food) is, however NOT actually “new” news!
While – for some unfathomable reason – this is the first time the issue of heavy metal contaminated baby food has been reported on with such thorough coverage (the prompt being the recent congressional inquiry) contaminated baby food is – tragically – not anything “new”; advocates in the Lead-poisoning prevention community (as well as epidemiologists and others who focus on the health impacts of metallic-toxicants pollution) have been aware of this issue for a very long time!
It is deemed “newsworthy” right now because reporters and newsroom decision-makers have chosen this opportunity – this moment in time – to turn their attention to the issue — which is terrific by the way, but doesn’t make up for this issue being pretty much completely ignored (relatively speaking) for the past decade or longer.
Each successive era seems to have it’s “moment” — in which some incident or another prompts a new generation of reporters to “investigate” another “new” aspect of the (age-old) story of the (perpetual) poisoning of American children – via daily exposure to Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium, or some other common potent metallic toxicant in their homes and lives.
Meanwhile countless physicians and scientists have, of course, observed and written about the horrible effects on the human body – especially children’s bodies – from exposure to these extremely neurotoxic metals (even with exposure to very trace amounts) for as long as these ores have been mined, refined, and incorporated into items to be sold, purchased, and brought into our homes. This includes exposure from trace amounts of toxicants found in baby food.
Here are some links to the issue of heavy metals in baby foods when it was covered more quietly (for whatever reason)
- An article from December 16, 2019
- An article from November 11, 2019
- An article from November 1, 2019
- An article from October 2019
- An article from January 1, 2019
- An article from March of 2019
- An article from August 29, 2018
- An article from December 7, 2017
- A report from December of 2017
- An article from October 26, 2017
- An article from October 25, 2017
- An article from September 24, 2016
- An article from September 20, 2016
- An article from April 2016
- An article from September 21, 2015
- May 13, 2014 Arsenic in Rice report (FDA)
I think that’s probably enough links to demonstrate that we (society, collectively – and especially the advocacy community, the research community, and the regulatory agencies) have known about the issue of unsafe levels of heavy metals in baby food for a very LONG time. In looking up articles to link above, I also found a piece from a 1916 issue of McClure’s Magazine, mentioning the concern for AVOIDING heavy metals in baby food (I’ll try to update this post with a screenshot of that a.s.a.p.)!
What are the *NEW* elements in the current coverage?
- NEW: The fact that this was the subject of a congressional inquiry (although the issue has been reviewed by Federal regulatory agencies in the past.)
- NEW: The fact that the Trump administration had the opportunity to pursue this but shelved this inquiry two years ago.
- NEW: The fact that the baby food companies KNEW that their products have unsafe levels of toxic heavy metals (this is actually “textbook” corporate behavior, and really not at all new).
- NEW: The resulting recommendation of the inquiry – that legislation is needed to compel compliance with yet-to-be-developed FDA Standards.
- NEW: The recommendation that the FDA should standardize maximum levels for each toxic heavy metal — creating maximum “allowable” levels [of toxic heavy metals which our public agencies have already declared “have NO SAFE LEVEL”!]
- NEW: The recommendation that compliance testing should be required of the product for sale (the finished product — not merely testing of each of the listed ingredients).
Why it matters that this is not NEW news…
As an advocate and an activist, it is important to me to share with you that core fact of this news itself (that commercially-sold baby foods and formulas have unsafe levels of Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, and Cadmium) is not new — because the fact that this has been a problem for years / decades / a century(?!) is yet another example demonstrating that we, as parents, need to be our OWN advocates in taking care of our children. An example from history: here’s a link to a post I wrote with XRF test results for a can of baby formula (from 1939) sealed with Lead!
We cannot count on manufacturers to put our children’s health and well being first. We cannot count on our government to put our children’s health and well being first. So what can parents do? — specifically, what can we do to make sure our children are not poisoned by their food?
The biggest concern with baby food: processing
The biggest B.S. line of reasoning of this report – blaming the concern on “the soil“, rather than focusing on contamination and concentration of heavy metals caused by the processing!
As discussed in my documentary film on childhood Lead poisoning, MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic (link below), current industrial processing of food and beverages [whether we’re talking chocolate, wine, or baby food] intrinsically carries the potential to add heavy metal contaminants at every step of the way.
Exposed bare metal in machine components
There is often Lead and Arsenic (and sometimes also Antimony) in brass components of machinery used for processing food. These are moving components designed to wear and be replaced; machine manufacturers specifically and intentionally use Leaded brass in these machine components because of the lubricity of the metal – the quality that makes it move within the machine but also the quality that causes it to wear over time. The microscopic amount of worn material that disappears from these components (thus requiring them to be replaced periodically) ends up in the food being processed.
Painted metal in machine components
Additionally, many components of these metal food processing machines are painted with Lead- or Cadmium-based paints. The ideology there is that the metal-based paints adhere better (stick to the metal substrate longer) than non-metal based paints. However this is simply not the case as this paint also wears (significantly) over time. If you have a coffee roasters in your neighborhood (as I do) take a look at their machine as an example (yours may have a new machine – which may or may not be all stainless steel, but ours has their vintage machine on display). In both vintage and new machines you will likely see both brass bare metal components and red and blue painted metal components. Below is a picture of the roasting machine from the local coffee roasters in my neighborhood.
Vintage coffee roasting machine:
In addition to food ingredients being contaminated with metals from processing machinery, the final finishing and further processing of the finished product — such as the reduction of purees (boiling down which evaporates the water content) — further concentrates the amounts of toxic heavy metals in the finished products, which is why the finished products are often more toxic than the calculated sum of any detected toxicity present in each of the individual listed ingredients.
Here’s what parents can do to make sure their children are not consuming high levels of Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, and Cadmium:
- Eat whole foods whenever possible. If you eat whole foods – and eat in front of your baby, you will be teaching THEM – through example – to eat whole foods, too; they will naturally model their behavior after yours. As a result of practicing this philosophy, our kiddos love broccoli; asparagus; Brussel sprouts; cucumbers; kale; lettuces; tomatoes; potatoes; yams; beets; artichokes; carrots; bell peppers; cauliflower; beans of all sorts; snow peas; snap peas; apples; lemons; limes; oranges (and mandarins; clementines; and many other citrus variants); pomegranates; bananas; berries; figs; dates; and a wide variety of beans; legumes; whole grains; nuts & seeds (all kinds); and even many different varieties of seaweeds! [With all our boys having grown up accustomed to eating whole fresh produce, in a typical day, we all eat as much as we can in the form of fresh veggies [many consumed raw] and fruits, etc., actually — and on average, typically only really “cook” for one meal each day.
- Eat solid foods (not purees). For example: you can easily steam broccoli; peas; carrots; cauliflower; potatoes; etc. until they are soft enough for a baby eating solids to eat them. It’s healthier to feed babies real (cooked) solid foods, rather than blending/processing them into mush.
- Eat home-cooked foods, whenever possible. I used to make baby food cubes from scratch (apple sauce, pears, peaches, etc.), preparing them and then freezing them in ice cube trays, and then putting the cubes in baggies marked with the ingredients and the date, to feed my baby later. [This is when I had just one kid and I was a single mom — with all the subsequent kids, I never even bothered with baby food (except as an occasional “treat”!); I just always fed the kids at the table, with the rest of the family. Each of my younger children went from nursing directly to solids, and it was very natural/organic, as far as transitions go!
- Avoid packaged and processed foods: If it is packaged (in plastic, cardboard, a can, a jar, whatever — if it is shelf-stable or processed in any other way), it should not be a primary food – but should be an occasional treat or a condiment. All animals tend to live healthier, longer lives when they consume as much fresh, unprocessed food in their diet each day as possible (and that includes babies). I know this is not easy when working full-time, but it is an important goal to strive towards.
- When preparing your own baby food, if you must use blended purees, make sure your blender or grinder does not have any Leaded brass components [look for “different-colored” nuts under the blades — that may be an indicator of a Leaded brass component]. Also avoid off-brands of baby food grinders (and avoid hand-me-down ones, too — this is a product that you want to buy new if you can). Here’s an example of a Lead-contaminated baby food grinder – link
While it is likely maddening to most new parents reading about Lead (and the other metals in the baby foods they may be feeding their own babies today), it is even more maddening to me (and others who have been fighting this fight for as long as I have or longer) that not only do the years roll by with nothing being done, but every few years this information is trotted out like it is “NEW” news when, sadly, it is truly old news. The generational amnesia around the issue (with the information being forgotten from one generation of parents to the next) is the only constant (beyond the persistence of the presence of the toxicants themselves).
“But Tamara, I read other articles that said this whole report was ‘fear mongering'”
While some of the (often sensational) headlines might (at first glance) seem merely alarmist, please be assured the majority of articles sharing this information are NOT “just fear mongering” — THIS IS AN ACTUAL (SERIOUS) PROBLEM. The amounts of Lead (& Arsenic, & Cadmium, & Mercury) found in most baby foods is a definite problem. The levels found in many cases significantly exceed the thresholds for toxic heavy metals in foods and beverages recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The most commonly cited threshold is the AAP recommendation that drinking water be no more than ONE part per billion LEAD. The baby food testing has found levels that have been many, many times this — sometimes in the HUNDREDS of parts per billion.
When we look to the pervasiveness of Autism [or more specifically, the mushrooming number of cases of cognitive delays that are often misdiagnosed as Autism], and other issues (epidemics) that have CLEARLY been scientifically linked to low-level persistent (chronic) exposure to heavy metals (like ADHD – see Dr. Lanphear’s work), the reason for the concern for trace levels of heavy metals in baby foods becomes evident.
“But Tamara, I have seen more than a DOZEN articles stating that this is a problem for ALL FOOD, because the heavy metals are ‘in the soil in which the food is grown'”
Please consider that this misinformed argumentation is influenced by industry politics and propaganda. I have personally tested soil FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, using highly-accurate XRF technology. MOST soil is NOT contaminated; most food is not contaminated “from the soil”. SOME food grown on land where heavily Leaded pesticides were historically used (more likely to be a problem with food grown in Mexico than in the United States) MAY be contaminated with metals from the soil it is grown in, but this is – statistically – actually RARE [some regional rice crops being the most notable valid example of that concern].
Who benefits from deflecting blame?
“Follow the Money”
Ask yourself “which industry benefits from blaming this on ‘the soil’?” The baby food industry? The food industry in general? The Lead industry? (yes, that is a real thing.)
If chemical and industrial mining and manufacturing industries can successfully deflect blame from the outcome and products of their manufacturing processes (deflecting blame away from their significant contribution to the contamination of baby food from the manufacture of Lead-, Cadmium-, and Arsenic-contaminated processing equipment and machine parts for example) then people look away and don’t look to regulate the REAL industry causing the problem.
Instead of blaming the true bad actors focus is shifted to regulating the industry where the problem has been discovered (the baby food industry.) It’s all smoke and mirrors to deflect blame away from the true lion’s share contributors in industry: processing and manufacturing equipment — much of which is still manufactured using extremely toxic heavy metals in moving components and machines’ paints and coatings — materials long-identified as hazardous — and completely unacceptable for equipment intended to have contact with food!
Don’t give in to panic, hopelessness, or resignation — take action. We have power as citizens and consumers.
- Feeding your baby: In the end, our best bet is to go back to basics. Think of how your grandmother (or great grandmother) would have handled these things (how did she feed her baby?) and perhaps – given what’s – still – in a lot of commercially-processed baby food today – consider whether you might be better off adopting or emulating some of those methods and traditions from 100+ years ago?
- Changing the world: “Get into” the politics. Read the science source data (not just the news articles). Petition for change. Spread the word. Don’t be complacent. Don’t believe people trying to convince you this (heavy metals impacting our babies’ lives) is overblown or unavoidable. It’s not.
I am telling you ALL of this as a MOTHER of children who have been acutely Lead-poisoned. I deal with the impacts of having children with Lead-poisoning every single day. It’s exacts a horrible toll. It changes their lives and yours. Don’t settle. Do better for your kids.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts. I will likely update this post soon with more information, however in the meantime please check out the following links if you have questions:
- The testing methodology for all tests reported on on this blog.
- A video showing you how to search the blog most efficiently, given there are over 2,700 posts and pages here.
- My documentary feature film on childhood Lead poisoning.
Please let me know if you have any questions. With 1.165 Million unique readers in 2020 alone I am not always able to answer each and every question personally, but I do try.
Erin Murtagh says
Sadly I have already seen posts about “fear mongering” and how the whole thing is overblown. And many outraged and shocked parents will use those posts to soothe their anxiety, and not take any action. We want to hear that everything is okay, even when it’s not. And I agree about generational amnesia. Not everyone has family to pass down knowledge, and most older family members pull the “We had tons of lead, we’re all fine!”. And I always say, Are we though? We attribute so much of our poor health to our own choices and “genetics”, when surely a good percentage of it is from toxins.
Thank you for commenting. I am working on addressing that with some updates to this post. I have also seen this too in comments online. It’s maddening. The news coverage of this subject is not fear mongering… it is a very real problem. I wish all the people looking for a “source” for the rise of autism in our country looked here (at Lead in baby food) as that is a much more likely trigger than other potential sources.
Cheryll Bennett says
I am LIVID! I am sick! I have worked diligently since pregnancy to make sure that my child was safe; purchasing only organic, made in the US or Europe, doing everything I could think of to make sure that my child would not be poisoned by our greedy corporations. We used Earth’s Best organic baby food, thinking it was HEALTHY! Thankfully, I breastfed for a long time (2 years), but we did supplement with baby food. I did do a lot of mashing up our own organic foods at dinner, etc, but still…not enough. We have spent years dealing with our son’s ‘adhd’, impulse control issues, etc, etc, trying to figure out what was going on. I have tried so hard. This has made me so sick. :'(
I want to sue. I want to scream. I want to hold them accountable for poisoning my child. :'(
Thank you for sharing Tamara.
Babs I says
Tamara, what advice would you have for parents who did feed their children these foods? I myself fed my daughter a lot of HappyBaby rice snacks and puffs (also Plum brand) because they were fortified and I wanted to be sure I was filling any possible nutritional gaps. Otherwise she would eat vegan whole foods (gluten free at that)
I am sick with regret and I’m not sure what my next move is besides getting her blood lead level tested, although I fear it is too late as its probably deposited in her bones and organs. She is nearly 3 years old. I’ll never forgive myself for this!
Please don’t feel guilty Babs. Just try to switch to water and whole foods now – and supplement with garlic as much as possible. Definitely get a blood test if you have not yet. It’s always good to have a baseline (although at three years old any exposure may not show up in a blood test.)
Kenneth Stailey says
Public meeting – Lead and Your Health 5th Feb 2021
New Zealand is having a Flint MI crisis now.
I just want to thank you Tamara, so much, for all you do. I am so thankful you are willing to speak up and advocate for our children. The world needs a whole lot more people like you.
Blessings to you in all you do.
Thank you Nickie.
Tamara, I know this is really specific, but what are your thoughts on purchased organic applesauce and lead contamination? Do you know anything about it specifically? The internet has not been helpful? My son loves applesauce and wants to eat it almost every day.
I purchase single ingredient organic applesauce in clear glass for my family – Trader Joes has good prices. I think that given it is both organic AND single ingredient AND it is also packaged in clear glass all ends up being favorable (less likely to have lead contamination because fewer potential sources.)