A viral article has been swirling the internet about heavy metals in baby food. The information presented comes across as disturbing — any parent who reads it and isn’t familiar with arsenic in their food could be very alarmed!
Relax, parents. You are not going to poison your baby by giving them rice-based baby food. Catchy headlines generate donations and clicks, but they should also generate a red flag to you, the reader.
These headlines and articles have a big problem — they provide no solid evidence of their claims.
In the report, it is hard to find the evidence on which they gathered their data. Ask yourself … how did they measure? What methodology did they use to get to these results? Why did they do the study? Where is the study and where is the peer-reviewed evidence?
This isn’t the first time this has happened. A very similar article made internet headlines in 2017, 2018, and now it’s being debunked again. Snopes, which has done a lot in recent years to set the record straight about modern day agriculture, covered this topic in detail here. In it, Snopes said:
The organization making the claims “had not published any data to substantiate their claims as of this writing. A lack of peer review means that research has not gone through the external, expert scrutiny generally required for such research to be regarded as methodologically sound.”
Beware of articles that use hyperbole and fear. “Toxic,” “chemicals,” and “heavy metals” are just a few examples of words they use. The reality is that everything is a chemical. Everything can be toxic at a high enough dose; even water can kill you if you drink too much. The first rule of chemistry: the dose makes the poison. And the “dose” their articles refer to is parts per billion.
That’s “billion” with a “b.” Could you imagine slicing a pie into a billion pieces? It would be like a crumb. It’s equivalent to a half a teaspoon in an Olympic sized swimming pool.
I think we have bigger fish to fry in our environments and our diets, don’t you?
The “heavy metals” they refer to are cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and lead. While it’s important to mitigate our exposure to this, these are basic elements of the periodic table are found in everything from soil to air, food, and water. They’re all around us, they’re naturally occurring in the Earth’s crust, and they’re pretty much impossible to avoid. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s toxic to us; chances are, these “heavy metals” have always been in everything we consume, we just have better ways to detect now. (And we now have a plethora of misleading internet headlines.)
Take arsenic for example. Can it be terrible and deadly? Sure! (At the right dose, so can anything.) But it’s always been naturally occurring in pretty much everything we eat in extremely minuscule doses. While rice sometimes gets a bad rap in the media, U.S. rice is shown to have the lowest levels of arsenic in the world. The U.S., in general, is pretty lucky by comparison, as many countries do not even have clean drinking water. (How do other countries irrigate their crops?)
Rice for example also offers many health benefits that far outweigh potential risk. This link, with peer-reviewed citations from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, further explains how these very low trace levels found in foods pose no public health risk.
This is a far cry from the original article stating, “No amount of heavy metals such as lead can be considered safe.”
Well … that’s not exactly how chemistry works.
Arsenic has been used and studied for hundreds of years, and continues to be studied. The USA Rice Commission has some great resources on this here, and continues to work with with the FDA and EPA, to name just a couple of regulatory agencies that offer oversight.
Dr. Julie Jones, professor of Foods and Nutrition at St. Catherine University explains, “All foods contain arsenic. So, if you eliminate arsenic from your diet, you’ll decrease your risk of any kind of adverse effect from arsenic, and you’ll die of starvation.”
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.