According to a new study, your baby's food is likely to contain traces of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
The study was commissioned by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) and described in a report released on Thursday that 168 baby foods were tested for the presence of four heavy metals: arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. They found that 95 percent of the baby food was contaminated with at least one of the heavy metals and every fourth of the baby food tested contained all four heavy metals. Only nine of the 168 baby foods tested contained no trace of the four metals.
Since then, the highest risk foods include fruit juices as well as rice-based products, including puffed snacks and rice cereals. Rice is particularly effective in absorbing arsenic, a widely-used pesticide, as it grows. Four of the seven rice cereal products tested contained inorganic arsenic, which is the more toxic form of the metal, and exceeded the limit of 1
Sweet potatoes and carrots are also big culprits are root crops.
The foods studied included 61 brands and 13 types of foods, including baby food, bite biscuits, cereals and fruit juices. They were selected primarily by parents who volunteered to the HBBF partner organizations. Parents were asked to purchase food from the most common baby food brands in their local stores. Additional food was purchased online.
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Among the metals, lead was tested with 94 percent of the worst baby food offenders. This was followed by cadmium and arsenic, which were present in about three-quarters of the baby formula tested, and mercury, which was the least common in just under a third of the infant formula tested.
All metals except mercury are known or probably human carcinogens. They are naturally occurring elements and due to their frequent use in pesticides in the last century they remain decades after the ban on pesticide use in soil and find their way into groundwater. The four metals are neurotoxic and pose a serious threat to the development of a healthy brain in children.
Exposure to these heavy metals may, for example, lead to lower IQs. HBBF also commissioned a data analysis showing that American children aged 0 to 24 months have already lost more than 11 million IQ points due to exposure to arsenic and lead in food. Fifteen foods account for more than half of this IQ loss, with rice food alone accounting for 20 percent.
"The heavy metals are interfering with the way the brain is wired," said nurse Charlotte Brody. One of the authors of the report and the National Director of HBBF reported NBC News. "Anything we can do to lower the levels of these chemicals that children are exposed to simply provides them with a better chance of learning."
Further effects of heavy metal exposure are attention deficits as well as learning and behavioral disorders.  One way to reduce this heavy metal burden is to force the FDA to lay down regulations, Brody says. According to the report, the FDA has not issued guidelines or set standards for the maximum safety of heavy metals for nearly 90 percent of the tested baby food.
"The FDA should do more," Brody said. "It's up to the FDA to set rules that make food safe."
The FDA did not respond immediately to a request from NBC News for comments on the study.
Meanwhile, according to Brody, the family does not have to wait to offer their children safer alternatives to foods at high risk of toxic metal contamination. Parents may opt for rice-free snacks and non-rice cereals such as oatmeal and multigrain cereals to limit a source of heavy metal contamination. Ensuring that children eat a variety of vegetables that go beyond the usual sweet potato and carrot purees also helps, and swapping bite-offs for frozen bananas can make a difference. HBBF says alternatives like these contain on average 80 percent less metals than riskier foods.
"There are so many things we can not protect our children from, the places where we can give our children a better life By chance, as parents and as a society, we have a responsibility to do what we can "Brody said. "Reducing the exposure values is one thing we can do."