Consumer advocacy group urges parents to not give babies rice cereal

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 11:26 AM CDT
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(CNN) - A popular brand of baby food was recalled last week because of high levels of arsenic and a consumer advocacy group is urging parents not to use rice cereal at all.

“What we’ve done out of habit, isn’t necessarily best for babies,” Jane Houlihan, research director for the consumer advocacy group Healthy Babies Bright Futures, said.

It’s often a baby’s first solid food, but the group is urging parents to stay away from it.

“If you choose a rice cereal from the grocery store, you really don’t know if it has high arsenic or not,” Houlihan said. “You don’t know if the company’s tested or what the decision the company’s made about the arsenic in their product.”

Last week, Beech-Nut recalled one lot of rice cereal after finding that it exceeded the Food and Drug Administration’s arsenic limits.

No other Beech-Nut products are affected by this recall and no illnesses related to these product codes were reported. The company, however, also announced it will stop selling baby rice cereal altogether.

“Arsenic is a really common contaminant in soil,” Houlihan said. “It’s everywhere, but rice happens to be particularly effective at picking it up from the soil and absorbing it, and so infant rice cereal has higher levels of arsenic than almost any baby food on the market.”

The FDA first proposed the limit on arsenic in infant rice cereals in 2016, when studies found 47% of infant rice cereals sampled from retail stores in 2014 contained 100 parts per billion of arsenic or more.

Even low levels of arsenic can harm a baby’s developing brain.

“If you’ve been serving infant rice cereal, there’s no need for panic or immediate concern,” Houlihan said. “The important thing is the make sure throughout your child’s infancy, you’re doing what you can to reduce lead and arsenic exposures.”

The Healthy Babies Bright Futures organization says alternatives include oatmeal or multi-grain cereals or simply pureeing fruits and vegetables.

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