WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is announcing a voluntary recall of Beech-Nut Stage 1 Single Grain Rice Cereal after the State of Alaska discovered samples that contained inorganic arsenic levels above 100 parts per billion, which exceeds the FDA’s infant rice cereal guidance level.
Beech-Nut also announced that it is exiting the market for infant rice cereals because it is concerned about the ability to consistently obtain rice flour with arsenic levels well below the FDA guidance level.
The Environmental Working Group applauds this action to protect babies from toxic exposures but is also urging the FDA to accelerate its plans to set limits for arsenic in all baby and toddler food, not just infant rice cereal.
“Today’s action demonstrates the need for enforceable standards for toxic metals in all baby foods, not just infant rice cereal,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs.
In April, the FDA released a plan to draft limits for some toxic metals found in baby and toddler food, including arsenic, but it has yet to reveal when it will issue proposed rules for some metals or what compliance deadline companies will have to meet.
Under the plan, the FDA might not finalize a standard for arsenic in all baby and toddler foods until 2024.
“It’s good that the FDA is proposing to propose limits on metals in baby food,” said Faber. “Setting draft levels will send a powerful signal to the food industry to do better. But proposing to propose is not the same as setting mandatory standards that baby food companies must meet. Parents should not have to wait – and Congress should not wait, but instead set interim levels in the law that companies must meet right away.”
Some lawmakers are backing the calls for swift limits. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation, the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, that would force the FDA to set tough interim limits for toxic metals in baby food within one year.
The FDA and the World Health Organization say even low levels of exposure to heavy metals such as arsenic can cause serious and often irreversible damage to babies’ brains.
Several brands of widely sold baby foods were recently found to be tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, according to an investigation by a House subcommittee.
The investigation, led by Krishnamoorthi, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Economic and Consumer Policy panel, examined internal test results and documents from four baby food brands, and found all four were tainted with heavy metals.
“This is what happens when you let the food and chemical companies, not the FDA, decide whether our food is safe to eat,” Faber said. “For too long, the FDA has allowed food and chemical companies to exploit loopholes to taint our food with ‘forever chemicals,’ jet fuel and toxic metals like lead and arsenic. Today’s enforcement action is a step – but only a baby step – in the right direction.”
Parents should avoid buying baby foods that contain ingredients testing high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice products. EWG recommends that people limit the amount of rice they eat and find alternatives to rice-based processed foods.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.