Baby Food Class Action Lawsuits Filed Over High Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Other Metals
Following the release of a U.S. Congressional report last week, which indicated high levels of toxic heavy metals are found in many popular baby foods, class action lawsuits have been filed in a number of different courts against major manufacturers.
The first of what is expected to be a wave of litigation were filed on February 5, presenting separate claims against Gerber (d/b/a Nestlé Nutrition), Beech-Nut Nutrition and Plum, alleging the manufacturers falsely advertised their products as safe for children while intentionally allowing their products to contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, which are toxic to infants and may result in permanent neurological damage.
The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy published a report (PDF) on toxic metals in baby food products February 4, which highlighted internal documents and testing data Nurture, Inc., Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber, but indicated that at least three other manufacturers refused to cooperate with the investigation.
“Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods refused to cooperate with the Subcommittee’s investigation,” the report states. “The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products.”
The baby food class action complaints began to be filed shortly after the release of the congressional report, with separate complaints filed in multiple different federal district courts.
The Gerber complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on February 5, noting that the report found Gerber only tests its ingredients, and not the final product before offering it for sale to stores. However, the findings indicated that Gerber used batches of rice flour that contained more than 90 parts per billion of arsenic. Some ingredients used by the company contained nearly 50 ppb of lead, 87 ppb of cadmium, and the company rarely even tested for mercury, according to allegations raised in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allege Gerber’s practices recklessly endanger babies and children, and prevented the company from ever knowing the full extent of the dangers presented by their products. Plaintiffs further allege these practices allow the manufacturer to blindly fail to recognize and label the nutritional ingredients of the products accordingly to warn parents and consumers.
Similar allegations were raised in a Beech-Nut Complaint (PDF) and the Plum baby foods complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on February 5, in which plaintiffs alleged the manufacturers made false representations to increase sales, while putting children’s lives and futures at risk. The complaints are the first of what could become a massive toxic baby food litigation in the coming months.
Overall, the Congressional report found some baby foods had more than 91 times the maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water; 177 times the allowable levels of lead, 69 times the limits on cadmium, and five times the levels of allowable mercury.
This isn’t the first time health officials have warned of toxic metal levels in baby food products. A report published in 2019 revealed heavy metals were found in 95% of baby food products sold throughout the U.S.
Baby food companies rarely test their products for contaminants before sending jars to retail shelves, and the FDA does not set limits on heavy metals in baby foods, with the exception for arsenic in rice cereal only. That limit was set by the FDA specifically for infant rice cereal in 2016 at 100 parts per billion.
While heavy metals do occur naturally in some foods, like rice and vegetables, the amounts may be increased by adding enzymes, vitamins and mineral mixes. Companies often do that, leading to dangerous levels of heavy metals in the final products.
However, long term exposure of heavy metals poses serious health concerns for children. Lead exposure at any level is extremely unsafe, and prior studies have linked heavy metal exposure to behavioral impairments, brain damage, damage to the nervous system, seizures, growth impairments, and even death. More oversight is needed to help protect infants from serious health side effect sand long-term health damage, the report concludes.
Following the Congressional report, lawmakers are calling on the FDA to require baby food manufacturers to test finished products, not just individual ingredients. The requests specifically call for manufacturers to report the test results on food labels so consumers can see them and to phase out ingredients like rice, which are known to be heavy metal laden.
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