Anew peer-reviewed study released yesterday (Read our response.) found arsenic in infant formula and cereal bars. Perhaps more surprising to many consumers is that the two brands of organic formula that were tested contained levels of arsenic 20 times higher than the non-organic varieties. This is because the main ingredient in the formula is organic brown rice syrup, which is sometimes substituted for high fructose corn syrup (another problematic sweetener, found to contain mercury—yet another harmful chemical). Unfortunately, there are no current standards under the organic label that prohibit arsenic ending up in certified food.
Arsenic can be found in many foods. Some seafood, for example, has arsenic from the earth’s crust that makes its way up the food chain. But Infant formula contaminated with arsenic is a different kind of problem—a preventable problem. It has more to do with an industrial food system where ingredients are added to processed or manufactured foods with little government oversight, leaving consumers ignorant of the risks to their children and families.
For moms, it’s yet another reason to save money (and worry) by breastfeeding babies whenever possible. We know that breast milk is the best baby food to put her or him on the path to a healthy life. But for those who must use formula, try to avoid products that list organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient (or any sweetener, for that matter).
We tested chicken meat in 2006, uncovering the fact that it was contaminated with arsenic, that for 60 years has been needlessly added to poultry feed. This, too, is an avoidable problem. In 2010, we petitioned the FDA and asked that the allowable amount of arsenic in animal feed be reduced. It’s going on two years later, and we’ve received no response.
FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg—a mom and physician herself—could do better. So could formula companies. Give them a call.