In Pukka’s Promise, The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY 2013), Ted Kerasote’s decision to feed his puppy Pukka an AAFCO-certified raw food diet has one major caveat. In his wonderful, memoir-like guide to caring for a dog to ensure a long life, he describes testing commercial kibbles, as well as commercially available raw-food diets (frozen and dried ones) for lead, and found no detectable level of lead in only three. His concern about heavy metals in foods for dogs, confirmed by this testing, reinforced the wisdom of what Dr. Joe Bartges, on the faculty of The College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, told Kerasote: to rotate a dog’s food so as “minimize the risk of feeding the same heavy metals year after year.”
This wisdom also applies to humans and especially babies. Like puppies, the body weight of babies increases substantially over time, and the effect of heavy metals on a small baby is disproportionally greater than on weightier adults.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently acted on this concern. Along with its recent proposal to set limits for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal of 100 parts per billion, the FDA has “urged parents to vary the kinds of iron-fortified cereal they feed their babies by using those made of oat, barley and multigrain” according to an article, F.D.A. Offers Arsenic Limit In Rice Cereal For Babies by Catherine Saint Louis in the New York Times (4/2/16). In support of its action, the FDA emphasized that “national intake data show that people consume the most rice (relative to their weight) at approximately 8 months of age.”
According to reporter Saint Louis, the FDA tested 76 rice cereals for infants “and found that about half had more inorganic arsenic than the proposed limit.” She notes that the FDA’s limit of 100 parts per billion earned the approval of Keeve Nachman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who studies arsenic in food. According to Prof. Nachman, “having a line in the sand where there wasn’t one before at least gives companies something to work with.”
In addition, FDA officials recommended that pregnant women also vary the grains they consume. As rice plants grow, they absorb more arsenic than other crops. According to Plant Biologist Jody Banks of Purdue University quoted in Deborah Blum’s The Trouble With Rice (NY Times, 4/18/14), “The issue with the rice plant is that it tends to store the arsenic in the grain, rather than in the leaves or elsewhere.” In its press release, the FDA noted that although arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water, fertilizers and pesticides also contribute to arsenic levels.
In its “Advice for Consumers,” included in the FDA press release, like Dr. Joe Bartges’ recommendation to Ted Kerasote on his dog’s diet, the federal agency advises “all consumers to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food.” In sum, rice cereal shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source, of nutrients for your baby.
The website Momtastic Wholesome Baby Food offers “easy, fresh & nutritious homemade baby cereal recipes” using whole grains, including a rice cereal made from brown rice. In making the various baby cereal recipes, the whole grains are first ground (in a blender or food processor) into a powder. It would be advisable to use organic whole grains since as noted by the FDA, fertilizers and pesticides contribute to arsenic levels.
(Frank W. Barrie, 4/22/16)