Baby Food Toxic Metals Lawsuits

On August 16, 2018, consumer advocate publication Consumer Reports revealed that it had analyzed 50 nationally distributed packaged foods made for babies and toddlers, and found that every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: lead, cadmium, mercury, and inorganic arsenic.

About two-thirds (68 percent) had worrisome levels of at least one. Fifteen would pose potential health risks to a child regularly eating just one serving or less a day.

Surprisingly, organic foods were no less contaminated than conventional foods.

The results shook the industry. Parents demanded better. Congress tasked a subcommittee to investigate. In February 2021, the committee confirmed the prior reports, finding toxic heavy metals in baby foods and recommending several steps to remedy the situation.

Meanwhile, many plaintiffs have filed personal injury lawsuits against baby food manufacturers like Gerber and Beech-Nut, with some of those qualifying as class-action cases.

Chaffin Luhana is currently investigating situations in which parents purchased baby foods potentially contaminated with toxic metals and noticed corresponding health or development issues in their children.

Toxic Heavy Metals Can Significantly Damage a Child’s Health

Why did Consumer Reports decide to test baby foods in the first place?

Because toxic metals had already been found in drinking water, fish, and rice. Lead, for instance, has shown up in some community drinking water supplies, while certain types of fish are known to contain high levels of mercury. Worrisome amounts of arsenic have been detected in rice and rice-based foods several times over the past several years.  

Babies and toddlers, because of their smaller bodies and developing systems, are at a much higher risk of adverse effects from toxic heavy metals than adults are. In a 2019 study, researchers stated, “The implications of heavy metals with regard to children’s health have been noted to be more severe compared to adults.”

Possible consequences of exposure include:

  • Reduced IQ levels
  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Respiratory problems
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that toxic metal exposure can be harmful to the developing brain, and has been linked to problems with learning, cognition, and behavior.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that young children, infants, and fetuses are “particularly vulnerable to lead.” Even lower exposure levels that would have little effect on an adult can damage the central and peripheral nervous system in a child, causing developmental issues, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of the blood cells.

What the Tests Showed Concerning Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

In Consumer Reports’ initial study, investigators found worrisome levels of heavy metals in four categories of foods:

  • Baby cereals
  • Packaged fruits and vegetables
  • Packaged entrees (turkey and rice dinner, for example)
  • Packaged snacks, like cookies, crackers, and wafers

Most of the products came from Beech-Nut and Gerber, but there were some from other brands like Earth’s best, Ella’s Kitchen, Happy Baby, Walmart (Parent’s Choice), Plum Organics, Sprout, and others.

The results showed the following:

  • About two-thirds of the products contained concerning levels of cadmium, lead, and/or inorganic arsenic.
  • Products made with rice fared the worst, as they contained worrisome amounts of inorganic arsenic, and many also had lead and cadmium.
  • As a category, snack foods were the most problematic, generally because of their rice content.

What Congress Found About Heavy Metals in Baby Foods

Concerned about these findings, Congress turned to the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Committee on Oversight and Reform for help. The committee began its investigation in November 2019 and released its findings on February 4, 2021.

As part of the investigation, the subcommittee requested internal documents and test results from seven of the largest baby food manufacturers in the country. These included:

  • Nuture, Inc. (makers of Happy Family Organics)
  • Beech-Nut Nutrition Company
  • Hain Celestial Group (makers of Earth’s Best Organic)
  • Gerber
  • Campbell Soup Company (Plum Organics)
  • Walmart, Inc. (Parent’s Choice)
  • Sprout Foods, Inc.

According to the subcommittee, only four of the companies—Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber—responded to the committee’s requests. Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout refused to cooperate.

Among the findings:

  • Arsenic, cadmium, and lead were present in baby foods made by all responding companies.
  • Mercury was detected in the food of the only company that tested for it: Nurture.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that internal company standards permitted dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, with documents revealing that manufacturers often sold foods that exceeded those levels.

Considering these findings, the subcommittee made the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory testing: Baby food manufacturers should be required to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals.
  • Labeling: Manufacturers should be required by the FDA to report levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels.
  • Voluntary phase-out of toxic ingredients: Manufacturers should find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice.
  • FDA standards: The FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals permitted in baby foods.
  • Parental vigilance: Parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients testing high in toxic heavy metals, such as rice products.

Manufacturers Aware of Toxic Metals in Baby Foods

What became clear during these tests and investigations was that the baby food manufacturers were aware that their foods sometimes contained worrisome levels of heavy metals. Yet they failed to warn parents or to take significant steps to reduce those levels.

According to a February 5, 2021 report in CNN, Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, chair of the House Subcommittee that performed the investigation, called the spreadsheets provided by manufacturers “shocking” because they showed that some baby foods contained hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals.

Though the FDA has yet to set limits for most heavy metals in baby foods, together with the EPA, it has set limits for bottled water. In some instances, the levels in baby foods were far above those bottled water limits.

Ingredients in certain products contained up to:

  • 91 times the inorganic arsenic level
  • up to 177 times the lead level
  • up to 69 times the cadmium level
  • up to five times the mercury level

The manufacturers shared statements with CNN noting, in general, that their products meet safety and quality standards. Meanwhile, Sprout—one of the companies that didn’t cooperate with the investigation—said nothing. Campbell stated that it did cooperate and responded to the subcommittee’s requests for information.

The subcommittee disagreed, telling CNN that Campbell simply presented a spreadsheet stating its products “meet criteria” rather than sharing any substantive information.

Walmart sent an email to CNN stating that it provided information to the subcommittee but never received any additional inquiries.

FDA Pushed to Act on Toxic Metals in Baby Food

Shortly after the Congressional committee report came out, the New York attorney general Letitia James petitioned the FDA to set standards for all baby food, not just rice cereal, which was the only item that had a toxic metal safety standard at the time. Specifically, the FDA set an action level of 100 parts of inorganic arsenic per billion in infant rice cereal.

On March 5, 2021, the FDA announced new actions aimed at further reducing toxic elements in food for babies and young children. The agency issued a letter to manufacturers reminding them of their responsibility to minimize or prevent contamination and stated that it was planning additional steps in the future.

Then on April 8, 2021, the FDA released its action plan for reducing toxins in baby food, which would occur in phases:

  1. Establish interim reference levels for certain toxins as appropriate
  2. Propose action levels for toxic elements in baby foods.
  3. Consult with stakeholders on these proposed action levels.
  4. Finalize the action levels.

Attorneys Push FDA to Move Faster on Baby Food Safety

On October 8, 2021, the FDA announced the first of several expected meetings concerning its “Closer to Zero” action plan. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the scope of the plan to reduce toxic exposure in baby foods. The meeting was scheduled for November 18, 2021.

Then on October 21, 2021, James led a coalition of 23 attorneys general to petition the FDA to move faster than usual to set interim action levels for the four toxic metals found in baby foods: lead, mercury, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic. The attorneys urged the FDA to set these levels no later than April 18, 2022.

“The Attorneys General laud FDA for announcing its ‘Closer to Zero’ Action Plan for Baby foods in April 2021,” the attorneys wrote. “However, many of the timelines set in April 2021 are too far off and FDA must take swift and comprehensive action to reduce the concentration of heavy metals in baby foods in the near-term.”

Types of Potential Injuries Associated with Contaminated Baby Food

Regular exposure to heavy metals such as those found in some baby foods include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Permanent decreases in IQ levels
  • Brain damage
  • Behavior problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Neurological damage
  • Reductions in working memory, perceptual reasoning, and verbal comprehension
  • Delayed puberty
  • Reduced postnatal growth
  • Potential increased risk of ADHD
  • Respiratory problems
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases

Baby Food Heavy Metals Lawsuits

Several baby food lawsuits have already been filed in various courts around the country. Parents who purchased these foods and then noticed health issues in their children seek to hold baby food manufacturers liable for the damage. Several parents have gotten together with other parents to file class-action complaints concerning this issue.

Chaffin Luhana is now investigating these cases and invites you to call today at 888-480-1123.