New testing data released by consumer protection group 'As You Sow' finds cadmium, a non-essential heavy metal, in a range of spinach products.
Based on its extensive testing, As You Sow filed legal notices under California’s Toxic Enforcement Act to more than 20 companies whose spinach products were found to contain cadmium, including retailers Safeway, Target, and Trader Joe’s and food brands Green Giant, Earthbound Farm (Taylor Farms), Cascadian Farms (General Mills), and Organicgirl, among others.
Cadmium is a heavy metal known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. It can affect fetal development, cause low birth weight, and can also impair neurobehavioral development in children. Chronic low-level exposure to cadmium can also damage the kidneys, bones, and lungs.
“No parent expects spinach to raise health concerns,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. “We are working with spinach companies and retailers to adjust their practices and monitor their products. Our goal is that they reduce or eliminate consumer exposures to cadmium in spinach or provide the warning required by California’s Toxic Enforcement Act, so consumers can make informed choices about the foods they eat.”
No difference for organic vegetables
The problem of cadmium in spinach is well-documented, yet not enough has been done to address the problem. In 2015, the California Department of Public Health found that a batch of baby spinach grown by Organicgirl contained 10 times more cadmium than average. Cadmium found in food products does not discriminate between natural, certified organic, and non-organic products. However, not all spinach products appear to be equally contaminated with cadmium, and cadmium content may be affected by supply chain decisions by food growers, processors, and manufacturers.
In listing cadmium as a developmental and male reproductive toxicant California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has set a limit of 4.1 micrograms per day of exposure. As You Sow’s testing showed that many spinach products sampled exceeded this limit by more than 2 times per serving, with the worst offender exceeding the limit by more than 25 times per serving.
This is not the first time As You Sow has uncovered heavy metals contamination in our food supply. As You Sow filed legal notices with more than 20 chocolate companies in 2018 for failing to warn consumers that their chocolate products contain cadmium and lead. These legal efforts culminated in a settlement with the world’s largest chocolate companies to fund an independent expert committee to investigate the sources of cadmium and lead in chocolate and find feasible measures to lower the levels of these heavy metals in chocolate products.
“Three years ago, we moved the chocolate industry to reduce consumer exposures to lead and cadmium in chocolate products,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “Now we hope to work with the spinach industry to do the same. Ultimately we need mechanisms to ensure that our food system is safe and that labels clearly show all of the contents including any contaminants.”
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