While heavy metals do occur naturally in some grains and vegetables, the amounts may be increased when food manufacturers add other ingredients to baby food, like enzymes and vitamin and mineral mixes that are heavily tainted with metals, the report said. Manufacturers rarely test ingredients for mercury.
Investigators also described what they called a “secret” industry presentation to the F.D.A. on Aug. 1, 2019. Representatives of Hain told regulators that testing only individual ingredients in baby food led to an underestimate of the content of heavy metals in the final product.
For example, inorganic arsenic ranged from 28 percent to 93 percent higher in Hain’s finished baby food than had been estimated by tests of the individual ingredients. Half of its brown rice products exceeded 100 parts per billion, according to the report.
Robin Shallow, a spokeswoman for Hain, said that the company stopped using brown rice in rice cereals in September 2020, though brown rice is present in “very small amounts” in other products. Since January 2020, all of the company’s rice cereals have contained less than 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic, she said.
She also disputed the characterization of the meeting with the F.D.A. as secret, saying the goal was to discuss reducing metals in finished products.
Beech-Nut, which used ingredients with high levels of arsenic to improve qualities like “crumb softness” in some products, set very liberal thresholds for arsenic and cadmium in its additives, according to the report: 3,000 p.p.b. of cadmium in additives like vitamin mix, and 5,000 p.p.b. of lead in an enzyme additive called BAN 800.
The company used cinnamon that contained 886.9 p.p.b. of lead, according to the report. The company’s standards for cadmium and lead in additive ingredients “far surpass any existing regulatory standard in existence,” the investigators said. Other added spices, like oregano and cumin, were also high in lead.