HBBF Statement on Beech-Nut's Rice Cereal Recall: A Step in the Right Direction

June 8, 2021
rice cereal

The June 8 recall of Beech-Nut’s infant rice cereal represents a positive step towards ensuring the safety of baby foods. Arsenic in the recalled cereal exceeds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) action level of 100 parts per billion.

Notably, this lot of Beech-Nut cereal may not be the only cereal on the market with high arsenic levels: Healthy Babies Bright Future’s (HBBF’s) 2019 report found that 4 of 7 infant cereals tested had arsenic in amounts over the FDA’s action level. Beech-Nut is the first company that has chosen to issue a recall of infant rice cereal based on high arsenic levels.

HBBF’s 2017 report, Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal, found six times more arsenic in infant rice cereal than in other types of infant cereal. HBBF applauds Beech-Nut’s decision to cease production of its infant rice cereal, since our testing shows that many nutritious, lower-arsenic infant cereals are available.

Beech-Nut’s recall was spurred by tests done by the state of Alaska finding that samples from Beech-Nut Stage 1, Single Grain Rice Cereal contained inorganic arsenic above the guidance level for inorganic arsenic set by the FDA in August 2020.

why is this recall important?

“It’s so important for babies that infant rice cereal with high arsenic levels not make it to market,” says Jane Houlihan, Research Director for HBBF. “Rice-based foods like infant rice cereal are high in inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic. Our report estimates that rice-based foods account for one-fifth of lost IQ points from all dietary sources of arsenic and lead, another contaminant commonly found in cereals.”

“Arsenic levels in infant rice cereal dropped by 37% in 10 years as companies worked to lower the levels spurred on by FDA’s attention to this important problem,” says Charlotte Brody, RN, HBBF’s National Director. “But attention is not the same as strong FDA protections. Not all manufacturers have complied. Levels are still far too high, and children under 2 years of age lose over 11 million IQ points from exposures to heavy metals in food. Baby foods made with rice contain far too much arsenic that is negatively impacting the developing brain. FDA must do more to make the amounts of neurotoxic chemicals in baby food truly closer to zero. We are encouraged by the introduction of the Baby Food Safety Act in Congress and the announcement of the FDA’s Closer to Zero plan and urge Congress to provide the funding that program needs.”

what can be done to protect babies from arsenic in their food?

This single recall is not all that is needed to protect babies’ development. The existing 100 ppb action level is not low enough — it still does not consider IQ loss or other forms of neurological impact, allowed cancer risks far outside of protective limits, and failed to account for children who have unusually high exposures to arsenic in rice. FDA should lower the action level, and other companies should follow Beech-Nut’s lead and keep baby foods with high arsenic levels off the market.

Based on this recall and the negative impacts of arsenic on babies’ growing brains, Beech-Nut will no longer produce Single Grain Rice Cereal. Beech-Nut is concerned about its ability to consistently obtain rice flour below the FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for arsenic.

While a recall of a rice-based cereal may worry parents, there are many other safer options. Oatmeal, multi-grain, and other non-rice cereals are the best options. They are consistently low in arsenic and are a healthy choice for babies. Even multi-grain cereals with rice as an ingredient are good options. They have less than one-third as much arsenic as rice cereals. Learn more about what cereals to buy once rice cereals are recalled and unavailable here.