Lawsuits launched over heavy metals found in baby food

12 Feb 2021

Major US baby food manufacturers are facing class action lawsuits in the wake of a government report that alleged “dangerously high levels” levels of heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium in their products.

Inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are toxic heavy metals that are dangerous to human health, according to The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The metals are particularly harmful to babies and children, who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects.

Lawsuits launched over heavy metals found in baby food

However, a recent report published by the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy found that commercial baby foods are tainted with “significant levels” of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

The committee requested internal documents and test results from seven of the biggest baby food makers in the US: Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain Celestial, Gerber, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart, and Sprout Food.

Four of the companies – Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber – provided the requested information while Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods refused to cooperate, the report authors state.

Gerber Products, Beech-Nut Nutrition, and Hain Celestial now face proposed class suits in New Jersey and New York federal courts, which allege the companies deceptively claim their baby food products are healthful and natural when they contain dangerous levels of heavy metals.

The subcommittee voiced “grave concerns” about products made by Walmart (under its Parent’s Choice brand), Campbell (under its Plum Organics brand), and Sprout Organic Foods because their lack of cooperation might obscure the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals compared to their competitors’ products.

‘Multiples higher’ than authorised levels for other products

Arsenic, lead and cadmium were present in baby foods made by all responding companies.
The results reveal levels that are “multiples higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products”, states the subcommittee report.

According to FDA authorised levels, for instance, bottled water may contain 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb lead, and 5 ppb cadmium while the Environmental Protection Agency has capped the allowable level of mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb. The baby food manufacturers’ own testing showed their products contained up to 91 times the arsenic level; up to 177 times the lead level; up to 69 times the cadmium level; and up to five times the mercury level.

“Internal company standards permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels,” reads the report.

Heavy metals can occur naturally in some ingredients. Rice, for instance, contains inorganic arsenic. The authors noted that Beech-Nut routinely used high-arsenic additives that tested over 300 ppb arsenic in order to achieve product characteristics such as ‘crumb softness.’

Recommendations

The subcommittee made a number of recommendations to ensure that products are safe for public consumption: it called on the FDA to introduce mandatory testing for toxic heavy metals on finished products, not just ingredients, and to require manufacturers to declare levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels. It also urged manufacturers to begin a voluntary phase-out of ingredients that tend to be high in toxic metals, such as rice, and that the FDA should set maximum permitted levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods.

If these steps are followed, parents will be able to make informed purchasing decisions regarding the food they give to their infants, the report concluded.

“Baby food manufacturers hold a special position of public trust,” wrote the report authors. “Consumers believe that they would not sell products that are unsafe. Consumers also believe that the federal government would not knowingly permit the sale of unsafe baby food. As this staff report reveals, baby food manufacturers and the Trump administration’s federal regulators have broken the faith.”

A spokesperson for Beech-Nut gave the following statement: “We want to reassure parents that Beech-Nut products are safe and nutritious. We are currently reviewing the subcommittee report. We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA, in partnership with the Baby Food Council, on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry.”

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