Beech-Nut Nutrition voluntarily recalled an infant rice cereal on Tuesday because it contained more arsenic than the US Food and Drug Administration’s limit of 100 parts per billion. In addition, the company announced that it would no longer sell baby rice cereal.
According to research, even low levels of arsenic exposure can have an effect on a baby’s neurodevelopment.
The FDA cited Jason Jacobs, Beech-vice Nut’s president of food safety and quality, in its announcement. “Beech-top Nut’s priority is the safety of infants and children. We are issuing this voluntary recall because we discovered through routine sampling by the State of Alaska that a limited quantity of Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal products had naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic levels above the FDA guidance level, despite the fact that the rice flour used to make these products tested below the FDA guidance level for inorganic arsenic “Jacobs stated.
The FDA first proposed the limit on arsenic in infant rice cereal in 2016 after studies revealed that nearly half (47%) of infant rice cereals sampled from retail stores in 2014 contained 100 parts per billion or more of arsenic. In August 2020, the agency finalized the limit. Healthy Babies Bright Futures discovered arsenic levels of more than 100 parts per billion in four of seven infant cereals tested in 2019. The FDA informed all baby food manufacturers in March of this year that when testing their baby food for potential hazards, they must consider toxic chemicals. The agency’s action came one month after a congressional investigation revealed that several baby food manufacturers knowingly sold baby food laced with toxic heavy metals. The spreadsheets provided by manufacturers, according to Krishnamoorthi, were “shocking” because they showed evidence that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals.
The subcommittee discovered that whether the baby food was organic or not, toxic metal levels remained high.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can be found in soil, water, and the air, with the inorganic form being the most toxic. (“Inorganic” is a chemical term that has nothing to do with farming.)
Because rice is grown in water, it is especially good at absorbing inorganic arsenic and has the highest concentration of any food, according to the FDA.
According to a 2016 study, arsenic concentrations in the urine of infants who ate white or brown rice were twice as high as those who ate no rice. Arsenic levels were highest in babies who ate rice cereal, which was frequently given several times per day to introduce babies to solids.
You also can’t rely on organic foods. A 2012 study discovered that brown rice syrup, a common sweetener in organic foods, contained significant levels of arsenic. One “organic” milk formula marketed to toddlers contained six times the amount of inorganic arsenic currently considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can increase the risk of cardiovascular, immune, and other diseases, but experts say the impact on a developing baby’s brain is the most concerning.
Other research has looked at how inorganic arsenic exposure during pregnancy might affect a baby’s immune system. A 2013 study of arsenic levels in pregnant women who ate rice products discovered that even low levels of inorganic arsenic exposure in utero were linked to infant respiratory infections in the first four months of life. Babies who were exposed to the highest levels developed severe infections that required antibiotics to treat.
Because of these concerns, child safety advocates have criticized the FDA’s cutoff levels for arsenic in cereals, claiming that they are insufficient to protect infants. According to Healthy Babies Bright Futures, national diet surveys show that Hispanic infants and toddlers are 2.5 times more likely than other children to eat rice on any given day, while Asian Americans eat nearly 10 times more rice than the national average.
Furthermore, the group claims that children with celiac disease, a wheat intolerance, frequently eat rice products instead, ingesting 14 times more arsenic than other children.