Is Infant Formula Safe From Arsenic?

February 22, 2012

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Many of you may have read in the media about a recent study in which contamination with arsenic was found in some samples of infant formulas as well as other foods. Families are rightfully concerned about the possible risks, especially when it comes to infant nutrition products.

With regard to infant formula, it is important to note that the high levels of arsenic were only found in a very limited number of brands of organic formulas that use “organic brown rice syrup” as a carbohydrate (sugar) source. Furthermore, those formulas reported to have a higher level of arsenic are NOT those which are specifically marketed as infant formulas (for infants <12 months of age) as described here by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Rather, they were formulas designed for older children (“toddler formulas”). This does not however, prevent them from being used for infants or recommended by pediatricians for infant nutrition. Other organic formulas marketed as infant formulas under federal guidelines utilize conventional carbohydrate sources and should not have this problem.

In general, it should be noted that there is little or no evidence to support the need for “organic” infant formulas. The extensive processing of infant formula makes it unlikely that concerning levels of contaminants or unwanted hormones are found in non-organic infant formulas. Families may choose organic infant formulas for many reasons, but should be aware that there is no research documenting any health benefit for infants. In addition, organic formulas are often more expensive than non-organic infant formulas.

Regardless, families who are not using organic formulas should not be concerned about this report or about arsenic contamination of infant formulas. Those who do use organic formulas may check with the manufacturer, their pediatrician, or carefully look at the label to ensure that they are choosing a formula that does not contain “organic brown rice syrup” as an ingredient. Although manufacturers of the products using this syrup have claimed this issue is resolved, I recommend waiting until independent investigators confirm that the “organic brown rice syrup” is safe and not contaminated with arsenic or other toxic components before purchasing these products.

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