Maryland senator’s bill aims to protect infant health by weeding out heavy metals found in baby food


Hannah Saunders


Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George) is advocating for legislation that aims to protect infant health in Maryland.

Events that occur during a child’s physical and developmental growth—up to age three—can impact their health and wellbeing for the rest of their lives. Many parents introduce their children to baby food during this stage, but a recent study shows that 95 percent of 168 tested baby food products contain at least one heavy metal. 

Benson said the federal response to the issue has been “disappointedly slow.” She noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current guidelines—which provide industry members with guidance on actions needed in dealing with food intended for babies and toddlers—are not legally enforceable. As of January, the FDA recommends no more than 10 ppb of lead for fruits, vegetables, mixtures, yogurts, single-ingredient meals, and yogurts and puddings; no more than 20 ppb of lead for root vegetables; and no more than 20 ppb of lead for dry infant cereals. Additional FDA guidance on heavy toxic metal levels found in baby foods and products is not set to be released until 2025. 

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“This delay highlights the urgency for Maryland to take decisive action now to protect our babies, to protect our toddlers, and our little children,” Benson said.

Benson’s Senate Bill 723 would require baby food manufacturers to test a representative sample of each production aggregate of the food for toxic heavy metals. If enacted, baby food products containing toxic heavy metals that exceed levels established by the FDA would be prohibited from being sold or distributed after Jan. 3, 2025. Fines could be levied against manufacturers who violate the FDA’s standards.

Benson discussed SB 723 during a House Health and Government meeting last week. She said it would help combat the presence of toxic heavy metals in baby food, which put children at risk for developmental delays, neurocognitive issues, and increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer.

“The bill mandates that all baby food manufacturers conduct regular testing, and report the findings to the Department of Health upon request. Such results must be made available on the manufacturer’s website, and the product labeling must include a QR code that leads consumers to this vital information,” she said. 

In 2019, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an organization that works to educate families on how to protect their babies from harmful chemicals, released investigative findings on 168 tested baby food products. They found that 25 percent of baby food products contained all four heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury), and 95 percent of baby food products contained at least one heavy metal. 

Clean Label Project (CLP), which tests consumer products for hidden environmental and industrial contaminants, released a white paper report titled “Baby Food: A Puree of Plasticizers and Heavy Metals” in 2020. CLP’s report tested over 530 baby and toddler food products such as formulas, cereals, jars, pouches, juices, drinks, and snacks.

“The results of the baby food study were shocking. Heavy metal content was concerning in the products tested. Lead was detectable in 36 percent of the products. Cadmium, also found in batteries, was detected in 58 percent of the products,” CLP said.

When compared to other formulas, soy-based formulas contained seven times the amount of cadmium. Arsenic was also detected in 65 percent of all the tested products. 

“Arsenic was found in nearly 80 percent of all formulas tested. Even more surprising, certified organic products contained two times more arsenic than the conventional products tested.”


Water and soil contamination are the driving causes of toxic heavy metals in baby food products, according to the CLP report. Water contamination can occur when pesticides, industrial waste, or pollution trickles into water sources. Soil contamination is caused by the use of pesticides, oil spills, construction, and erosion. CLP stated that the use of leaded paints and gasoline have increased the amount of lead in soil. 

“Processes such as industrial farming and fracking/mining can also contaminate the surrounding water and soil,” CLP said. 

SB 723 passed in the Senate on March 18. It awaits a second hearing in the House.

Readers interested in learning more about health policy in Maryland can register to attend our 2024 Maryland State of Reform Health Policy Conference, which will be held on June 7 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

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