The state of New York has launched an investigation into high levels of arsenic in baby food products sold throughout the state, on the heels of growing national concerns about the discovery of toxic heavy metals in a number of popular foods given to infants and young children.
New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a press release on April 29, announcing a probe into Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain (Earth’s Best Organic), and Nurture (HappyBABY); sending letters to each of the baby food manufacturers asking for additional information about levels of arsenic found in their products, as well as advertising and promotional techniques.
James’ indicates she is examining whether the infant rice cereal products, specifically, contain arsenic levels that exceed the legal maximum for the state. However, critics and observers say they are not aware of a New York standard on arsenic.
“No child should be exposed to toxic substances in their food,” James said in the press release. “Baby food manufacturers have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety of their products, and provide peace-of-mind to the parents who rely on their products every day. Through this probe, I am committed to protecting the health and wellness of the next generation.”
James’ letters ask the companies to provide information on levels of inorganic arsenic in their baby foods, in addition to their practices, policies and standards on how they test and determine what those levels are in final products. She also seeks information on any advertising material for infant rice cereal products and any communications they’ve had with others involving arsenic levels in those products.
The investigation comes several weeks after the FDA announced its “Closer to Zero” action plan, which seeks to address concerns over the levels of arsenic, as well as cadmium, lead and mercury in baby food.
In February, a report by the U.S. House Oversight Committee ignited a firestorm of concerns over the various heavy metals found 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.
The Congressional 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.
Although the manufacturers maintain that their products are safe and appropriately labeled, the 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.
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.