Other Industry Initiatives

The Baby Food Council

The Baby Food Council is a group of infant and toddler food companies, supported by key stakeholders, seeking to reduce heavy metals in the companies’ products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management practices.  The Council was created in January 2019 in partnership with Cornell University and the Environmental Defense Fund.  All companies that source ingredients, manage the upstream supply chain, and nationally market foods for children six to 24 months of age in the United States are welcome to participate in the Council.

The Baby Food Council’s members are Cornell University, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, The Hain Celestial Group (Earth’s Best), Gerber Products Company, Danone (Happy Family Organics), Environmental Defense Fund, and Heathy Babies Bright Futures. Technical advisors are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Food and Drug Administration, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Professor Rui Hai Liu serves as Cornell’s scientific representative on the Baby Food Council, with CIFS-IPP providing organizational support. 

Analysis of Baby Food Products for Heavy Metals

A best practice to reduce heavy metals in vegetable and fruit purees is to regularly test ingredients and products for low levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead to be able to identify and resolve potential problems. Accordingly, the FDA and food industry regularly test foods for various heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium and lead. These common food contaminants occur naturally or from pollution in the environment. Organic and conventional crops alike absorb them from soil and water. Their presence in baby food raises is a concern because babies are more sensitive to their harmful impacts. There is no known safe level of exposure to these metals; hence even low levels of contamination are a concern.

Baby food companies, their suppliers, and the food safety agencies that oversee them need reliable, relevant results from lab tests to determine if ingredients meet government and internal safety standards. The Baby Food Council has found that lab proficiency and reporting practices for heavy metals testing are highly variable and can lead to false assurance that an ingredient does not contain the substances. For example, a test result indicating “Below reporting limit” or “0.0” from a laboratory with a high Limit of Quantitation (LOQ) can result in a faulty conclusion that the tested ingredient is appropriate for baby food even when its metals levels are relatively high.

Accordingly, the Baby Food Council developed four criteria to identify labs that were proficient at quantifying arsenic, cadmium, and lead at low levels of concern and recommends that a lab that conducts tests for arsenic, cadmium and lead should:

  1. be accredited pursuant to ISO 17025:2017 or equivalent;
  2. use an analytical method at least as sensitive Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Method EAM 4.7;
  3. demonstrate proficiency in quantifying each of these toxics to at least six micrograms of the toxic per kilogram of food (µg/kg); and
  4. provide a written report of its results that provides a numerical value to at least 6 µg/kg and does not report them as zero.