There's long been debate over the pros and cons of formula feeding over breastfeeding, but even though breastmilk may be ideal, as a twin mom with low milk supply and one infant with a milk allergy, I can definitely attest to the value of formula. An alarming new study published Wednesday by the Clean Label Project though found that many baby formulas were actually shown to contain arsenic and other heavy metals, and, well, that's pretty concerning for those of us who bottle feed. Here's how to tell if your baby formula tested positive for arsenic, because unfortunately, that's not something that's going to be advertised on the label.
The nonprofit group The Clean Label Project — which advocates for greater transparency in food labeling — tested a variety of baby formulas, along with other products, like baby food, toddler drinks, and popular snacks for little ones, according to USA Today. And the results were pretty startling: according to The Clean Label Project, out of the 530 products tested, 65 percent of products tested positive for arsenic, (along with a number of other contaminants like lead, cadmium, acrylamide, and BPA). And of the 86 baby formulas tested for arsenic? Nearly 80 percent were positive.
The Clean Label Project has taken the laboratory data and used it to help devise a rating system for popular products and brands, and the good news, at least, is that four of the top five formula products ranked by The Clean Label Project were from Enfamil and Similac, which are often go-to brands for many parents. The bad news? Neither brand fared particularly well overall: according to The Clean Label Project's brand report cards, Enfamil joined other popular brands like Gerber and Parent's Choice, with only a two-star rating in the toxic metals category, while Similac did a bit better, earning three stars out of five.
For those purchasing toddler formulas, it seems pretty clear that they are definitely not all created equally. Topping the list of best formulas (both infant and toddler), according to Clean Label Project's list, was Baby’s Only Dairy Organic Non-GMO Toddler Formula.
But three other toddler formulas took spots in the bottom five overall formula picks: Peaceful Planet Toddler Supreme Natural Vanilla Organically Grown Rice Dietary Supplement, Happy Tot Grow & Shine Organic Toddler Milk Drink, and Comforts for Toddler Stage 2 – Toddler Beginnings Milk Based Powder Infant Formula with Iron. Natraceutical, manufacturers of VegLife Peaceful Planet products; Happy Family, manufacturers of Happy Tot products; and Comforts for Baby, manufacturer of Comforts for Toddler products have not responded to Romper's request for comment.
Unfortunately, The Clean Label Project doesn't say whether arsenic specifically was found in products on an individual basis, nor does it specify the amounts. But concerned parents can search the website for information on different formula brands and products, to see how they rated in regards to toxic metals — and they'll also be able to choose a better option for future use, if need be.
As unsettling as the latest study results might be though, they are certainly not the first time parents have had reason to be worried about their infants' arsenic consumption. In 2016, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that babies who consumed rice or rice products — including rice cereal and rice "puffs" — had higher urinary arsenic concentrations than those who didn't, according to STAT. (Though it's worth noting that all rice contains trace amounts of arsenic.) And in 2012, researchers at Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School found that baby formulas containing organic brown-rice syrup (which is often used as a sweetener in organic and gluten-free foods) had arsenic levels "significantly higher" than the 10 parts per billion (ppb) federal limit for drinking or bottled water, according to TIME.
It's important to note however, that in general, arsenic can just be legitimately difficult to avoid. According to TIME, it can occur naturally in groundwater, and rice in particular can absorb arsenic in water and soil pretty efficiently. But the side effects of arsenic consumption are also majorly concerning: according to The World Health Organization, arsenic is associated with developmental issues, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, diabetes and cancer, and prenatal arsenic exposure has also been linked to infant mortality and low-birth weight, according to TIME. And while in adults, the risk of arsenic consumption may be lower, in infants and small children, the risk is more apparent.
The findings from the Clean Label Project data shouldn't necessarily leave parents paranoid about infant formula, but it does at least highlight the need for more transparency, particularly when it comes to baby products. But now that more data exists, it means that parents have more information available to them to make better informed choices — and that is really valuable.