Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Arsenic in baby foods

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks.

Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s have found that little has changed since this law was passed. According to their research, 50 percent of rice baby-food products in Britain still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic.

Although this study was conducted in the UK, it makes one wonder about what the arsenic levels in local baby foods could be. Read on to find out why it is a concern…

Arsenic prevents healthy development

“This research has shown direct evidence that babies are exposed to illegal levels of arsenic despite the EU regulation to specifically address this health challenge,” says Professor Meharg, lead author of the study and Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen’s.

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“Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby’s growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few.”

Rice has, typically, 10 times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage.

As babies grow rapidly they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems.

Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

Breast-fed vs formula-fed babies

The research compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning.

A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas, including rice-fortified formulas for infants with dietary requirements such as wheat or dairy intolerance.

Furthermore, the weaning process increased infants’ exposure to arsenic, with babies being five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process. This highlights the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

Watch out for rice

Rice and rice-based products are a popular choice for parents, widely used during weaning, and to feed young children, due to its availability, nutritional value and relatively low allergic potential.

“Products such as rice-cakes and rice cereals are common in babies’ diets. This study found that almost three-quarters of baby crackers, specifically marketed for children exceeded the maximum amount of arsenic,” explains Professor Meharg.

“Simple measures can be taken to dramatically reduce the arsenic in these products so there is no excuse for manufacturers to be selling baby food products with such harmful levels of this carcinogenic substance.

“Manufacturers should be held accountable for selling products that are not meeting the required EU standard. Companies should publish the levels of arsenic in their products to prevent those with illegal amounts from being sold. This will enable consumers to make an informed decision, aware of any risks associated before consuming products containing arsenic.”

Source: Queen’s University Belfast via