Health chiefs panicked into incorrectly advising parents not to give infants rice-based babyfood following media "scaremongering" over a Swedish report this week but after The Grocer alerted them, it has rectified the error.

The misleading advice appeared on the NHS Choices website following national newspaper reports last week about levels of arsenic and cadmium in rice-based babyfood.

In stories described as "scaremongering" by one senior babyfood brand executive, papers including the Telegraph and Mail quoted a report by Swedish researchers that claimed some babyfoods "may introduce high amounts of toxic elements such as arsenic and cadmium".

The NHS Choices website ran a lengthy response to the newspaper articles, part of which read: "Recent research has indicated that other rice-based baby foods can contain relatively high levels of arsenic, and it seems sensible for parents to avoid these as a precautionary measure, in line with the FSA's guidance to keep exposure to arsenic as low as possible."

This statement went against 2009 FSA guidelines that parents should avoid giving infants rice milk as a replacement for cows milk, breast milk or infant formula because of concerns over arsenic and not that they should avoid all rice-based foods. Almost every major supplier including Hipp Organic, Organix, Ella's Kitchen and Heinz produces babyfoods containing rice.

When the error was pointed out to health bosses by The Grocer, they urgently removed the incorrect statement and replaced it with the rice milk advice. The NHS Choices article also now reads: "A 2007 survey by the FSA examined the levels of arsenic in baby rice and other rice-based weaning foods. The agency concluded that these foods did not have levels of inorganic arsenic that caused concern."

An FSA spokesman said: "The story was wrongly worded. I don't know how it occurred but we are grateful The Grocer brought this to our attention."

Since the publication of the stories, many babyfood manufacturers have issued statements to reassure parents their products are safe.

Read more
Plum launches new yoghurts for babies (12 March 2011)
Asda is the first to unveil its own-label babyfood (19 February 2011)