Food industry these days are facing multiple challenges from many quarters and the most serious issue concerns the real mindset of the captains of food industry vis-a-vis consumer welfare. While there is widespread view that food industry is playing only lip sympathy to consumer safety without really caring about the same, the situation is further complicated by the ever expanding knowledge about the food that makes the life of the industry more miserable. Recent findings by Swedish food scientists that baby foods fed to young infants of less than 6 months in Europe contain deadly trace minerals like Arsenic are startling indeed. Industry cannot be faulted entirely because they have been following well laid down standards which now are being challenged.
The limits of poisonous metals like Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium etc present in foods have been set a few years ago without much of a thought about their impact on young infants. Breast feeding, considered most desirable way of protecting the health of the baby, has become the standard norm for mothers and since mother has the necessary wherewithal to filter these poisonous minerals, baby can be expected to have zero exposure to them. However industrially processed baby foods, made from raw materials coming from different sources with varying content of heavy metals, cannot escape being tainted to some extent and such products cannot stand in comparison to breast milk. The main concern is that infants up to six months age depend heavily on milk based foods and if breast milk is not available they have to depend on the commercial products exposing them to poisonous minerals continuously with enormous damage potential.
That almost all major manufacturers of baby foods have been cited for presence of Arsenic and other heavy minerals is a cause for great concern. It is a good thing that safety agencies in Europe have woken up to this new development and probably new norms will be evolved on a priority basis. While Arsenic can cause significant DNA damage, Cadmium is implicated in neurological and kidney damage. Rice has been found to be the main culprit as far as Arsenic is concerned and since manufacturers were focusing on keeping this mineral at levels less than stipulated under law, infant foods based on rice invariably have presence of Arsenic. It is only now industry is being asked to strive to eliminate Arsenic altogether which may not be easy. Procuring rice from sources where Arsenic level is very low, may be the only option for the industry.
To read the conclusions of the Swedish researchers is indeed scary and according to them feeding infants twice a day on manufactured baby foods such as rice porridge can increase their exposure to arsenic by up to fifty times when compared to breast feeding alone. Exposure to other toxic metals such as cadmium, can increase by up to 150 times in some of the foods, while lead increase may be up to eight times more. With the recent Tsunami disaster in Japan and the collapse of two of the nuclear reactors releasing deadly radiation all around, further problem may await the industry. It may be desirable for FAO and WHO to undertake urgent studies immediately as to how agricultural crops are going to be affected by the radiation leak. Many countries including India have put an embargo on import of any food from Japan, fearing for the worst though Japan is not a major exporter of foods in the global market.
One of the favorable outcomes of the above findings may be creation of increased awareness amongst mothers about the risks involved in rearing their infants on commercial products while they possess the needed "elixir of life" in the form of breast milk.