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Ingredients loaded with toxic heavy metals are commonly used in baby food sold by several major manufacturers, including Beech-Nut, Gerber, Nurture and others, with a recent congressional report indicating many products sold nationwide contain levels of lead or arsenic hundreds of times higher than amounts federal regulators allow in bottled water.
A report by the U.S. House Oversight Committee (PDF), published in February, has ignited a firestorm of concerns over the presence of toxic heavy metals in baby foods, including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.
Exposure to these heavy metals by infants has been linked to a risk of autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders, placing this vulnerable population of Americans at a serious risk, according to the report.
House staffers conducted the review using data turned over by Beech-Nut, Gerber, Hain and Nurture, Inc. about the levels of toxic heavy metals present in their baby food products and the ingredients used to create them.
In many cases, the companies never actually tested their final products, and there are currently no standards for the amount of these heavy metals allowed in baby food products. However, there are limits for arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury established for bottled and drinking water.
Standards established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a maximum allowable level in bottled water for inorganic arsenic at 10 parts per billion (ppb); at 5 ppb for lead and cadmium; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set an allowable limit for mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb.
“The test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipsed those levels: including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level,” the report states.
The investigation found that internal standards employed by baby food manufacturers has permitted “dangerously high” levels of toxic heavy metals in the ingredients used to make their products. The internal documents also indicated the companies often sold baby food which exceeded even those levels.
For example, Beech-Nut has internal arsenic and cadmium standards of 3,000 ppb for additives, like vitamin mix, for inorganic arsenic and cadmium. It set a limit of 5,000 ppb for lead in certain ingredients.
Hain, which set internal standards of 200 ppb for arsenic, lead and cadmium in its ingredients, often exceeded its own internal policies, with some ingredients containing 353 ppb of lead and 309 ppb of arsenic.
It was a secret slideshow presentation given to the FDA by a Hain whistleblower which sparked the congressional investigation.
Last week, Democratic Senators and representatives introduced new legislation, The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, to set regulatory limits on the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in baby food products.
The legislation would require the FDA to set limits of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic in baby food, and 15 ppb for cereal. It would also set a limit of 5 ppb (10 ppb) for cereal) for lead; 5 ppb (10 ppb for cereal) for cadmium; and 2 ppb for all baby food, including cereal, for mercury.
If passed into law, those levels would be required to be lowered in two years via FDA guidance, and again after three years. Manufacturers would have to meet these levels within one year of passage.
In addition, the bill would require manufacturers to post results of testing for these heavy metals in their baby food products online at least twice per year, and would establish a public awareness campaign through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the risks of toxic metals in baby food, and would allocate $50 million for research on how to reduce the presence of toxic heavy metals in baby food through agricultural means.
Toxic Metal Baby Food Lawsuits
Since the congressional subcommittee report was released in February, manufacturers have faced a growing number of baby food lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to centralize the baby food cases earlier this month, asking the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize the cases before one judge in the Eastern District of New York, where the majority of cases are currently pending.
Such consolidation is common in complex product liability litigation, where a large number of product liability lawsuits have been filed over similar injuries caused by the same products. Centralizing the cases before one judge is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.