TARGET 8 fact checks study claiming arsenic, lead found in baby food and formula

6 months 1 week 4 days ago Tuesday, January 09 2018 Jan 9, 2018 Tuesday, January 09, 2018 10:57:00 PM CST January 09, 2018 in Target 8
By: Shaletta Norwood, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - Dorothy Willy is a new mother to her five month old baby. 

She said she loves everything about motherhood and looks forward to her baby's first big moments.

"I really can't wait for those first words," Willy said. "I just would love to hear the words Mama and I love you." 

Willy said she exclusively breastfeeds at this time. She said she was nervous about it in the beginning, but now she is used to the process.    

"I didn't know what to expect, whether I would be uncomfortable with it and the whole aspect of being out and about and not having a bottle," Willy said. "But I wanted to give her what was most natural." 

In October, a non-profit organization, the Clean Label Project, stated it found positive traces of lead, arsenic and other chemicals in baby food items like formula and jarred foods.

Executive Director Jaclyn Bowen said the organization purchased 600 top-selling baby food items and tested them for more than 150 industrial environment contaminants such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and BPA. She said the organization wanted to see what was in America's baby food. 

"We found that 78 percent of products had measurable levels of arsenic, 36 percent of products had measurable levels of lead," Bowen said. "We also found that certified organic products did have less pesticides; however, some of those same organic products had twice as much metals."

When the Clean Label Project released the study, news outlets throughout the country reported on the results. 

Willy said the study alarmed her. She said even though she breastfeeds, she is not against baby formula and food items. She said the study made her feel uncomfortable as a new mother. 

"It's a little scary and disturbing, especially for babies," Willy said. "They're so tiny and their digestive system isn't fully developed."

CEO of the Sweetwater Science Labs James Gawenis said he is skeptical when it comes to the study. He said there isn't a definite way parents could interpret the information on the organization's website. 

"Anyone looking at this website, as an expert in foods analysis, I would be saying don't even bother," Gawenis said. 

Gawenis said the main issue he noticed was the study had not been peer reviewed, and the information was arbitrary. He said data has to be transparent and measurable.

"Without a known value to based off of whether or not this is actually a dangerous material," Gawenis said, "You can't make an arbitrary evaluation." 

Bowen said people have questioned why the Clean Label Project did not release raw data or have the study peer reviewed. She said both of those things are in process.

"On the Clean Label project website, you can find our raw data and how we unmasked nearly 75,000 data points for parents," Bowen said. "We wanted to make it quick and easy, so we pulled that down and drilled it down to a five- star rating system."

However, Gawenis said the five-star system doesn't give parents a clear explanation of the organization's findings. 

"They just have this star system that doesn't tell you what it means, especially on the baby formula," Gawenis said.

The Analytic Chemistry Lab, Ellipse Analytics, conducted the organization's study. On the website, the study sample is shown only once, meaning there are not multiple tests on samples shown. 

Gawenis said parents should be cautious of that. He said the organization is also using words such as "nutritional value" and "contaminant", but not defining the meaning of those words.

"If you're not willing to make those definitions, all they are doing is creating a scare tactic to get you to buy certain things over the other," Gawenis said. "That's a sales gimmick."

Willy said she plans to stick to breastfeeding. She said she doesn't judge anyone who doesn't breastfeed and understands if baby food items are their only option.

"If I had to, I would," Willy said. "It would be nice if they were making a little more clear labels for parents."

Bowen said the Clean Label Project has five different funding sources, which are grants, donations, a certification program that it offers to manufacturers, a crowd-funding campaign and an Amazon smiles beneficiary.

Gawenis said he hopes the organization did the study for the right reasons. 

"It's good they're trying to do something good," Gawenis said. "But if they're not willing to give out what the actual demarcation lines are, it's useless information." 

If you are a parent who is concerned with your baby's food intake, contact the FDA, which has safe and quality food requirements. 

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