Yes, There’s Arsenic in Baby Food and Formula

Yes, there’s arsenic in baby food. But before you toss all your store-bought purees away, know that arsenic is found in “water, air, food, and soil in organic and inorganic forms.” Recently, social media has been buzzing with the supposed results of a study by the Clean Label Project. However, there’s a few things that are causing critics to raise suspicion. While the Clean Label Project’s Methodology states that the study is verified by other labs, the actual study has not been released to the public at all.

So, what’s the deal? Let’s break it down.

If you’re familiar with the scientific method, the FDA, testing, etc. this introduction may be a little basic for you. But for those readers who don’t have that background, I wanted to make sure this article gives a bit of a foundation.

First off, let’s start with the Clean Label Project’s claims:

This is a screenshot from the Clean Label Project’s website.

Here’s what they claim:

  • Completed a study of 500 infant formulas and baby food products from 60 brands
  • Products underwent screening for 130 toxins (including arsenic in baby food, we assume)
  • Products were tested and reviewed by “a third party analytical chemistry laboratory”
  • The results of the study are shared in the form of “product ratings”

Is it important that the Clean Label Project has not released its study?

In my opinion, yes, it’s important. Here’s why: without releasing the study to the public, there’s no way to verify that the data or methodology is sound. For a nonprofit to claim that major, FDA-approved products are contaminated, the lack of transparency from the Clean Label Project (CLP) concerns me. But, let’s not be too hasty. There’s nothing that tells us CLP’s study or claims are invalid, either. So we need to look at the whole picture.

What do the CLP Product Ratings tell consumers about arsenic in baby food?

Sadly, not much. If you take a look at the website, you can easily find the product ratings, which are given stars. If something rates highly according to CLP, they give it a seal of approval. However, if you actually open the product ratings to try and find more information on why a specific product was given its rating, you get the exact same content for every product. There’s nothing specific about arsenic in baby food. Here’s a few examples:

Here’s a CLP endorsed product. I’ll say it’s endorsed because it has a seal with “best in class” from CLP.

Here’s a product the CLP gave a low rating.

The product rating descriptions are identical. Scroll through any of the product ratings, and you’ll find no context, no explanation for the rating, just the same generic descriptions throughout.

So, there’s really no information on how or why CLP came to its conclusion on a certain product.

But arsenic and toxins are bad, right?

There are a couple types of arsenic. In fact, this hysteria about arsenic is not new. In 2011, Dr. Oz had a segment that made people fear apple juice. But it was invalid and unsound, because organic arsenic (that’s arsenic that naturally occurs in food, water, air, etc.) is non-toxic and safe. Here’s some info from a 2011 article in Men’s Health:

“So is there cause for concern? Absolutely not, explains the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The problem with the Dr. Oz report, the FDA says, is that its tests did not differentiate between organic and inorganic arsenic. The latter is potentially toxic to humans, while organic arsenic is “essentially harmless,” according to an FDA report. Organic arsenic is found in our water, air, and soil, and is almost guaranteed to show up in our food.

“There is currently no evidence to suggest a public health risk,” says FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao, who said her agency tests apple juice and other products for inorganic arsenic. “If the FDA finds too much inorganic arsenic in any juice, it will take steps to remove that product from the market.”

OK, so apples took a brief PR hit. And that’s a shame, because arguably nothing you eat offers as many health benefits as autumn’s crispiest, juiciest crop.”

Why do these reports about arsenic keep happening?

Excellent question! I think the above point Men’s Health made about PR was spot on. Public Relations companies, hired to improve the image of certain companies, have done a lot to become more transparent, honest communicators. But there are some PR firms and practices that still opt to “spin” content. One PR strategy is to create a front group, which in my opinion may be what is happening with CLP.

I’m confused, what does PR have to do with arsenic in baby food?

So, to put it simply, the stories that end up in the news – those of new studies, products, etc. – are often placed because of the relationship a PR professional has with a news company. Or a press release or pitch sent out by a PR firm. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s basic business. PR professionals help companies and nonprofits get media coverage. Of course a headline like “arsenic in baby food” is going to get lots of clicks and attention. So it makes sense that publications would run the story without fully researching the topic. In short, publications want to be the first to break the news. We’re just not sure this is actual, factual news without a verified, peer reviewed study.

Should I worry about arsenic in baby food?

In my opinion, not yet.

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence“. – Hitchen’s razor

If someone told you they did a study on ghosts, and they found that ghosts were real, would you believe them? Well, it depends on your bias, right? If you already believe in ghosts, you may be quick to believe they are real. If you have no opinion or don’t believe in ghosts, you may be skeptical. It’s good to be skeptical. Because as of right now, there is no evidence provided by CLP that there’s arsenic in baby food or formula. So, if you think of the FDA and food companies as evil, you’re probably thinking this study is valid, whether there is evidence for it or not. But if you use logic (and actual science) you’ll want to see the data. While we all have our own opinions, I think we can all agree that we hope baby food and formula is safe. Until we know for sure…: