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Motion Seeks Centralization For Litigation Over Baby Food With Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Other Metals

As a growing number of lawsuits continue to be filed throughout the federal court system against manufacturers of baby food products tainted with heavy metals, a group of plaintiffs are asking a panel of federal judges to consolidate and centralize the cases before one U.S. District Judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Since February 5, at least 38 proposed baby food class action lawsuits have been filed throughout the federal court system, each involving allegations that popular baby food products were sold with high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, which may lead to long term developmental and neurological problems for children.

The baby food litigation emerged after the official release of a report by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy early last month, which highlighted internal documents and testing data for products manufactured and sold by Gerber (d/b/a Nestlé Nutrition), Beech-Nut Nutrition, Plum, Hain Celestial Group, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart Inc., Parent’s Choice and Sprout Foods, indicating that many of the widely used baby foods contain elevated and toxic levels of heavy metals.

The House report found some baby foods contained 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.

To date, a total of 43 lawsuits have been filed in 12 different federal courts, each raising common questions of fact and law, including allegations that that Defendants’ baby food products tested for harmful heavy metals and that Defendants’ food labeling was false and misleading and failed to disclose material facts.

Among other common allegations raised against the baby food manufacturers are unjust enrichment, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligence, gross negligence, strict product liability, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty, a group of plaintiff’s have recently.

In a motion filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on March 8, four plaintiffs are requesting all related actions be centralized for coordinated pretrial proceedings in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, where the majority of cases are currently pending.

The process is common in complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are being filed in courts nationwide over the similar injuries caused by the same product defects. The motion requests that the cases be consolidated to establish uniform and consistent standards, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts, reduce duplicative discovery and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have long maintained that exposing infants and children to toxic heavy metals can cause a permanent decrease in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior, and untreatable and frequently permanent brain damage.

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.

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