Of the 168 foods tested, 95% contained lead, 75% cadmium, 73% arsenic and 32% mercury, and 25% contained all four.

Many parents in the U.S. were probably panicked by a recent report that most of the baby food on grocery store shelves contains potentially harmful substances.


That’s not surprising, given that protecting your offspring from harm is the most basic of parental instincts. Still, panic generally is a counterproductive reaction whatever the situation, so let’s examine the facts.


A group called Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which according to its website seeks to “measurably reduce the largest sources of babies’ exposures to toxic chemicals that harm brain development” commissioned a study of over-the-counter baby foods from U.S. companies.


Of the 168 foods tested, 95% contained lead, 75% cadmium, 73% arsenic and 32% mercury, and 25% contained all four. All of those heavy metals, according to HBBF, are neurotoxins that can impact a child’s brain development and future educational and behavioral development.


A full 20% contained more than 10 times the amount of lead recommended as a tolerable baseline (the caveat being no level of lead consumption is completely safe for babies).


To those who might dismiss this as “just do-gooders crying wolf,” CNN pointed out that an earlier study by the Food and Drug Administration found similar results. The latest tests found that rice-based products, sweet potatoes and fruit juices — all popular foods for babies — are the worst offenders.


HBBF also concedes the likely next comment from the “just do-gooders crying wolf” crowd is that these substances aren’t being nefariously added into baby food by manufacturers, but occur naturally in the process of growing the fruits and vegetables.


For example, CNN reported that since rice is grown in water, it is especially prone to absorb inorganic arsenic, and brown and wild rice are particularly bad because arsenic gravitates to the grain’s outer shell.


That’s why one of HBBF’s objectives — asking baby food manufacturers to set the ultimate goal of having their products contain no measurable amounts of those heavy metals — is probably unrealistic, given it would have to start at the farm level with 180-degree (and probably very costly) changes in production methods.


That doesn’t mean the problem should be ignored or that it’s not legitimate.


Baby food manufacturers should take steps to reduce the heavy metals in their products, but more importantly parents should be a little more cognizant of what they’re feeding their kids and cut back on the rice, sweet potatoes and juice in favor of a broader diet.


Yes, that’s easy for us to say in an environment where parents are stretched 100 different ways and barely have time to open a jar and grab a spoon, or slop some stuff on a plate and put it on a high chair tray (where the baby, the floor or the walls inevitably end up wearing much of it).


HBBF offers some options in its full report, and they don’t strike us as troublesome or expensive. Check ‘em out.


A version of this editorial first appeared in the Gadsden (Alabama) Times, a News Herald sister paper with GateHouse Media.