Heavy metals in baby food... 69 lawsuits and counting: 'Inconsistent rulings could result in manufacturers being held to different standards...'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Baby food companies now face at least 69 lawsuits over heavy metals. Picture credits: GettyImages-zimmytws and Gettyimages-SeventyFour
Baby food companies now face at least 69 lawsuits over heavy metals. Picture credits: GettyImages-zimmytws and Gettyimages-SeventyFour

Related tags baby food lawsuits Baby food heavy metals Gerber products company

At least 69 lawsuits have now been filed against firms named in the recent Congressional Subcommittee report on heavy metals in baby food, prompting a legal wrangle over how best to handle the cases.

Since the report​​​​​ alleging "dangerously high" ​​levels of lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic in selected baby food products was published on February 4, all of the companies named in it - Gerber, Beech Nut Nutrition, Campbell Soup (Plum Organics), Nurture Inc (Happy Family Organics), Hain Celestial (Earth’s Best), Sprout Foods Inc, and Walmart - have been hit with lawsuits​​.​

In papers filed April 20 with the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Legislation by plaintiffs in one of the cases (Albano et al v Hain Celestial Group), attorneys argue that all of the lawsuits should be transferred to the Eastern District of New York.

According to the Albano plaintiffs, “58 plaintiffs support the Albano plaintiffs’ motion for centralization, while others support centralization of company-specific MDLs​ [multidistrict legislation] in jurisdictions where defendants are headquartered."

A third group of plaintiffs and all of the defendants, meanwhile, oppose any​ form of centralization on the grounds that all the cases are different.

'Gross inefficiencies'

However, their efforts to create six ‘mini-MDLs’ have “failed to date,​” say the Albano plaintiffs. “As of April 20, 2021, there remain 66 cases that have not been consolidated.”

Aside from the “gross inefficiencies” ​of handling the cases separately or even in smaller clusters, they argue, “Inconsistent rulings could result in some baby food manufacturers being held to different standards than others. This will not benefit baby food manufacturers or consumers and would likely lead to confusion in the marketplace.”

In the wake of the Subcommittee report, the FDA has accelerated plans to set action levels​ for key contaminants in baby and toddler foods, while lawmakers have introduced The Baby Food Safety Act​​​, which proposes action levels for four heavy metals in baby foods, although the FDA has yet to evaluate the scientific basis for such thresholds.

The baby food brands named in the report  - who have all vowed to vigorously defend themselves vs legal challenges - say many foods contain trace amounts of heavy metals, which are found in soil and water, whether they are prepared at home or sold as packaged food, and that this is an industry-wide challenge that many of them have been working with regulators and nonprofits to address in the absence of federally mandated thresholds/action levels.

Plaintiff's attorneys, meanwhile, argue that​​​ "these products are being marketed to young Millennials with young children" ​​who would not expect "dangerous neurotoxins in baby food marketed for the first year of life.”

  • Click HERE​ ​​for an analysis of how some of the claims made in the lawsuits might be addressed.

In a tumultuous 2020, one thing stayed the same...

More new class action lawsuits were filed against the food and beverage industry—220 cases [+23% vs 2019]—than in any other year of the past decade, according to an analysis by law firm Perkins Coie.

In a tumultuous 2020, one thing stayed the same: Plaintiffs’ class action lawyers continued to file plenty of lawsuits against manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (CPGs)."

Read more HERE.

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