Heavy metals, such as inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are toxic to human beings, and they are particularly so to babies and children. But the complaint for this class action alleges that these substances have been allowed in baby food by certain makers—Gerber Products Company, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Nurture, Inc., and Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Gerber also does business as Nestlé Nutrition, Nestlé Infant Nutrition, or Nestlé Nutrition North America.)
The class for this action is all persons in the US who bought the products of the defendants in this case between the beginning of the applicable limitations period and the date the class is certified.
A flurry of lawsuits against baby food companies seems to have been triggered by a report from a US House of Representatives Subcommittee, revealing the presence of heavy metals in certain baby foods. In connection with this investigation, internal company documents have been exposed and tests have been performed that appear to support the Subcommittee’s findings.
The complaint alleges, “Exposure to heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.” According to the complaint, the bad effects may result from “[e]ven low levels of exposure[.]”
An extensive list of the products at issue can be found on page 3 of the complaint, linked below, in a small-print footnote that takes up nearly the entire page.
The baby food market is large and growing, the complaint says, and also growing is a demand for baby food products that are organic or in some way “healthy.”
The complaint quotes Beech-Nut’s website, for example, as saying, “Making high-quality, safe, and nutritious foods for babies and toddlers will always be our #1 priority” and “we’re aware of no higher standards in the industry than ours.” It also claims, “we conduct over 20 rigorous tests on our purees, testing for up to 255 pesticides and heavy metals (like cadmium, arsenic and other nasty stuff).”
It also quotes Gerber as saying, “our farmers are using best in class practices to ensure quality ingredients and minimize the presence of any unwanted heavy metals.”
The complaint discusses figures from the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Substance Priority List as well as standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The House Subcommittee report also found that “naturally occurring toxic heavy metal may not be the only problem causing dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in the baby foods; rather, baby food producers … are adding ingredients that have high levels of toxic heavy metals into their products, such as vitamin/mineral pre-mix.”
Also, some companies were found to have internal standards that set permissible levels of some toxic substances much higher than existing regulatory standards.
The counts include consumer fraud, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment, among other things.