Baby Food

Toxic Metals Found In Major Baby Food Brands, Congressional Report Finds 

Levels of arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals, that have been proven to harm brain development, have been found in many popular baby food brands, according to a congressional report. The report, which was released this Thursday, showed proof of a US House Subcommittee requesting internal data from seven major companies after Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a nonprofit, published results of the testing they performed on various baby foods. 

Of all the companies requested to share internal data, Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organics maker Hain Celestial, and Happy Family Organics maker Nurture Inc. were the only to comply. Walmart, Sprout Foods and Campbell Soup Company, which makes Plum Organics baby food, have not been as cooperative. 

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Arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are all metals that the US Food and Drug Administration consider to be harmful to human health. According to senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports, Michael Hansen, those metals can remain in the environment for decades past any pesticide and herbicide use. 

“Toxic metals might be more common in baby foods because of the vitamins and minerals added to those foods during processing.” 

Hansen claims that rice is a common ingredient in baby foods that tend to have a high level of arsenic due to the fact that it’s grown in water, and the arsenic from the soil dissolves when it comes in contact with water. The fact that these metals are being found in baby food is highly concerning considering a baby’s brain is obviously constantly developing. 

By the time behavioral issues or any other symptoms appear within the child, it may be difficult to trace the cause back to baby food, so Hansen recommends concerned parents switch to unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The FDA also recommends feeding babies a variety of grain-based cereals, not just those made with rice. 

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Last August the FDA finalized guidance for infant rice cereal, recommending that it contain no more than 100 parts per billion of arsenic. The congressional report revealed that Beech-Nut used some ingredients that tested as high as 913 parts per billion for arsenic, and Earth’s Best Organics used ingredients that tested around 309 parts per billion. 

The report found instances where manufacturers tested ingredients, but not final products, which is extremely dangerous considering toxic metals can have higher levels in a final product. The FDA released a statement this Thursday in which they claimed that any time a food supply is exposed to something toxic they treat it very seriously. 

“We acknowledge that there is more work to be done, but the FDA reiterates its strong commitment to continue to reduce consumer exposure to toxic elements and other contaminants.”

Campbell Soup Company claimed that it responded to all the sub committee’s questions, but also noted that the FDA currently has no standards when it comes to heavy metals in baby food, but when it tests certain products they come back as having an acceptable amount of metal in the food itself. Hansen believes that the FDA needs to require all baby food companies to test their final products and make those results available to the general public. This is especially important for organic brands that claim to be all natural, and are able to charge a higher price point for that “quality.”

DNA Babies 3D

Chinese Biophysicist Given Jail Time For Genetically Modifying Babies

There continues to be much debate over whether genetically modified embryos should be an acceptable practice in society and the viewpoints vary radically between countries, communities and cultures. Just last month, China handed down a prison sentence and fines to biophysicist He Jiankui and two of his colleagues after he was found guilty of illegal medical practices and jailed for three years. This followed his public announcement in December 2019 that he had, with the help of two embryologists, “created the world’s first gene-edited babies.” His claims attracted much negative attention and led to his prosecution at a Shenzhen court in December.

This case has led some scientists and ethicists to question the Chinese legal process for “lacking appropriate information about altered children.” It has been noted that China is lagging behind some other countries with regards to its views on genetic modification and there is much positive exploratory work taking place in the area of genetic modification which aims to tackle some of the most challenging genetically-related health issues affecting humans. But this work remains exploratory in nature as the future implications of altering genes in humans are unchartered territory and as such, are approached with caution, even by the most experienced of geneticists.

The courts revealed that Jiankui and his team, who also received lesser sentences, did not have the appropriate certifications to practice medicine and state news agency, Xinhua said, “in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national regulations in scientific research and medical treatment. They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”

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Jiankui stated that his motivations behind his actions were driven by his interest in tackling HIV. The modified genes were designed to promote the resistance of HIV in the descendents of the babies and he sought out couples where only the father was infected with HIV, with the mother being clear. The couples were offered IVF in return for taking part.

He was extremely public about this work, speaking about his aspirations at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, China. He explained that he was committed to sparing future babies from becoming infected with HIV later in their lives. He had a vision that this could be used to reduce the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in much of Africa, where there is often intense discrimination of those inflicted with the disease.

That said, many remain skeptical and have accused him undertaking the work for his own fame than for the good of future humanity. It has also been highlighted that it was the way in which the accused had conducted the process which was worthy of the harsh sentence it attracted. It has been stated that the trio forged ethical review documents and knowingly misled the doctors responsible for implanting the gene-edited embryos into two women, resulting in the birth of twins for one of the mothers. It was these actions which the court deemed were “a direct and deliberate violation of national regulations on biomedical research and medical ethics.”

In addition, medical experts have also questioned the validity of Jiankui’s rationale, arguing that there are much more effective ways of preventing HIV infections and that his approach simply put babies at risk of the gene editing process, providing them with little benefit in return.

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They have also indicated that similar punishments would have been likely if he had carried out the same practices elsewhere, such as in the UK for example. Furthermore, it has been duly noted that stringent punishments do need to be in place in order to prevent the risks of rogue scientists taking matters into their own hands and making genetic modifications which could have long-standing consequences for the affected babies and even their future generations.

Indeed, questions have been raised over the future development of the children affected by Jiankui’s work is yet to be seen, and there is no doubt that the children born through this work, including a set of twins, are likely to be monitored in the coming years.

On this topic, Fyodor Urnov, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told MIT Technology Review that although Jiankui had tried to recreate the CCR5 mutation already present in some human and leads to an immunity to HIV, he had in fact “created new mutations in the target gene, and apparently elsewhere in the genome, too, the consequences of which are unknown.”

What is clear is that the general consensus is that Jiankui acted prematurely and that work of this kind required far more research and preparation before it was ever practiced on human embryos. Further work needs to be conducted in the areas of standards, regulatory pathways and appropriate means of governance and these issues are being considered by the Academies Commission and by a WHO committee, who will return their findings later this year.

Pregnant Woman Sonogram

Doctor Claims Genetically Modified Babies Only Two Years Away

An academic from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, has claimed we are only two years away from being able to create ‘ethically sound’ designer babies.

Gene editing risks are at an all time low meaning there are high levels of justification to use the technique on human embryos, claims Dr Kevin Smith.

Dr Smith also highlights the fact that genetically modified (GM) people could be morally justifiable within a few years, which in turn could assist in preventing certain diseases from being passed through generations as well as improving the quality of life once the GM baby reached an older age.

The process of gene editing can be very complex with scientists altering an organism’s DNA to help prevent diseases being spread, however using this technique on human DNA will always be a topic that will bring heated debate, with the theory that if the process gets passed into the wrong hands the reasons for conducting the practice could be changed, for instance helping families choose the colour of their baby’s eyes, hair and more.

‘The human germline is by no means perfect, with evolution having furnished us with rather minimal protection from diseases that tend to strike in our later years, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. GM techniques offer the prospect of protecting future people against these and other common disorders. This has previously been achieved to an extent in GM experiments on animals. If several common disorders could be avoided or delayed by genetically modifying humans, the average disease-free lifespan could be substantially extended.’

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Yet however ethically sound the process may have been described as, there are worries that a revolution in genetic modification could begin and Dr Smith has warned there must be an ethical approach if there is any chance of winning the trust of the public.

‘Society is largely opposed to genetically modifying humans and the negative publicity generated by the ethically problematic first-ever production of GM babies in China last year was strongly criticized by most geneticists and ethicists, further hardening attitudes against the creation of so-called ”designer babies”.’

‘However, by delaying an ethically sound move towards a world where we can reduce genetic disease, we are failing those who suffer through disease and debilitating conditions. If such negative attitudes to biomedical innovation had prevailed in the 1970s, the development and use of IVF – a massively beneficial medical technology – would have been severely delayed, and indeed might never have come to fruition.’

A highly controversial topic of debate, gene-edited babies were born in China amongst fierce claims of law breaking. Twins Lulu and Nana were born in November 2018 thanks to Chinese Scientist Prof He Jiankui who was condemned by several researchers, bioethicists and medical professionals who claimed he acted illegally ‘in pursuit of fame and fortune’.

However this was not the first time scientists had edited the DNA in human embryos. In 2017, scientists in the United Kingdom were experimenting with human embryos that had been donated by IVF couples who no longer required them.

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There are many claims to why genetically modified babies should be looked at with caution. Not only are there concerns about the potential side effects there are also ethical fears being raised, such as the chance for inequality becoming a bigger issue thanks to the wealthiest of people being able to produce genetically enhanced children, therefore increasing an already large gap between the poorest and richest people in the world. There are also concerns that long-term, potentially specific aspects to the human race could be eradicated completely.

Dr Smith has also stated that the latest studies have shown that the main way forward in the war against multiple disease-associated genes is to use genetic modification within an embryo. The human germline, which is cells that span across multiple generations, is ‘by no means perfect’ thanks to evolution giving precariously low levels of protection from diseases that are more prevalent in our older years.

‘GM techniques offer the prospect of protecting future people against these and other common disorders. This has previously been achieved to an extent in GM experiments on animals’
There have been many questions surrounding the ethical side of creating genetically modified babies with Dr Smith commenting they were ‘highly desirable’.

The theory that common disorders and diseases could be delayed, or even avoided altogether, resulting in the average human lifespan being ‘substantially extended’.

The doctor also questioned whether the delay in creating a world without genetic disease through genetic modification was failing those who currently suffer conditions that are not only debilitating but also life threatening.

If genetic modification on human embryos does become more common it is agreed that there will have to be safeguarding measures put in place, not just to protect the families involved, but also to protect the way that the technique is used in years to come.

Gender Reveal

Knowing The Dangers of Gender Reveal Parties

Last month, a woman died at a gender reveal party, or a celebration announcing whether expectant parents will be having a boy or girl. A piece of shrapnel from a homemade explosive struck Pamela Kreimeyer, 56, in the head and killed her instantly.

Members of the Kreimeyer family had experimented with different kinds of explosive material, the Marion County Sheriff’s office said. They built a contraption to release pink or blue powder revealing the gender of the new baby, which they aimed to film for social media.

But instead, the device exploded like a pipe bomb, sending pieces of metal into the air that hit Ms. Kreimeyer, who was standing 14 meters away. “This family got together for what they thought was going to be a happy event with no intent for anyone to get hurt,” the sheriff’s office said. “This is a reminder that any time someone mixes these things there is a high potential for serious injury or death.”

This is not the first time a gender reveal party has gone dangerously awry. Last year, a man shot a target so it would explode with either pink or blue powder, but sparked a 47,000 acre (19,020) wildfire in Arizona that raged for a week.

A video of a man in Louisiana feeding his pet alligator a watermelon filled with blue jelly provoked concerns over the animal’s welfare and its owner’s safety. And in Australia, a so-called “burnout” — when a car emits blue or pink smoke — went disastrously wrong when the vehicle burst into flames.

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Critics of gender reveal parties argue their damage extends beyond the physical and environmental. Even the woman credited with inventing gender reveal parties, Jenna Karvunidis, has spoken of her “mixed feelings” towards the phenomenon.

In 2008, Ms Karvunidis baked a cake with pink icing on the inside to reveal she was having a baby girl. She wrote about it in a blog and sparked a new trend. But that baby girl, now 10 years old, wears suits and short haircuts. Ms Karvunidis says her own perspective on gender identity has changed.

“Who cares what gender the baby is?” Ms Karvunidis posted on Facebook in July. “Assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs.”

Helen, a mother of a transgender child, agrees. She says gender reveal parties enforce “hideously stereotyped boxes where girls equal pink princesses and boys equal blue cowboys”. As children grow up, Helen says, these stereotypes prevent girls from studying traditionally masculine subjects like maths and science and instil in boys the belief that it is “feeble” to express emotions.

“It’s not just to do with gender,” she says. “What if your child is born disabled or doesn’t fit into a particular version of what a baby or child should be?” Helen says gender reveal parties prevent children from “being celebrated in all their infinite diversity. They are made to feel shameful if they don’t fit into this gendered stereotype”.

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Sara is from the UK and was the first of her friends to throw a gender reveal party earlier this year. She had a difficult pregnancy that caused her significant pain and difficulty walking. She said the party created happy memories that kept her going.

“I don’t know how my mental state would have been if I didn’t have some kind of gathering like that,” Sara says. She planned games and revealed the baby’s gender by setting off a smoke grenade – a type of explosive. “I hadn’t done anything like that before,” Sara admits.

She read all the instructions and made sure the grenade was lit on safe grounds away from the public. Although she says it was a good way to celebrate and nothing went wrong, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) advises future parents to be mindful of safety.

Fireworks and smoke grenades “can seriously injure people and leave lifelong scarring and as such should be handled with care,” a spokesman said. RoSPA advise anyone planning to use them to familiarise themselves with the Firework Code.

And the gender of Sara’s baby? A girl. She was born premature at 34 weeks old, weighing 4 pounds 10 but she is now doing well. Sara describes herself as a “girly girl” and is looking forward to doing “magical fairy stuff” with her daughter. She does not believe gender reveal parties reinforce outdated gender stereotypes.

“People who are causing a scene I think are the ones causing the problem,” Sara says. “It’s not offensive.” She says she won’t mind if her daughter grows up to question her gender identity. “If she doesn’t feel right when she’s older that’s fine. But people are trying to make you think or believe that you should change all the time.”