Lawsuits piling up against baby food firms over potential damage to infant brain development

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There are reports of more than 80 lawsuits filed against firms that were named in a February congressional report about highly dangerous levels of arsenic and other poisons in baby food.

The report, requested by federal legislators in November 2019, reviewed four toxic heavy metals: inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have declared them dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children, who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects. Even low levels of exposure can cause serious and often irreversible damage to brain development, according to the report.

On Nov. 6, 2019, following reports of high levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy requested internal documents and test results from some of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States, including makers of organic and conventional products. Arsenic was present in baby foods made by all companies that responded to the congressional request.

Manufacturers listed in the report include Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic, HappyBABY, Happy Family Organics, Gerber, Parent’s Choice, Plum Organics and Sprout Organic Foods.

In March, a group of plaintiffs filed a request to consolidate their claims against the baby food makers before a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where a majority of the cases are pending.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied the transfer on June 7, finding that cases would be too defendant specific.

“At a general level, these actions are similar. All plaintiffs allege that defendants knowingly sold baby food products containing heavy metals and did not disclose this in their marketing. It is not disputed, though, that each defendant manufactures, markets, and distributes its own baby food products subject to different manufacturing processes, suppliers, and quality control procedures,” the judicial panel said.

“The claims against each defendant thus are likely to rise or fall on facts specific to that defendant, such as the amount of heavy metals in its products, the results of its internal testing, if any, and its marketing strategies.”

Some of the lawsuits include groups of parents who contend that the toxins found in the baby food led to the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their children.

 

Beech-Nut discontinues rice cereal
On June 9, 2021, The Beech-Nut Nutrition Co. initiated a recall of some of its infant rice cereals because of excessive levels of arsenic. And now the company will stop selling infant rice cereal altogether, saying it may not be able to consistently abide by the guidance level in the future.

“The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut’s top priority,” said Jason Jacobs, Beech-Nut vice president of food safety and quality.

“We are issuing this voluntary recall, because we learned through routine sampling by the State of Alaska that a limited quantity of Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal products had levels of naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic above the FDA guidance level, even though the rice flour used to produce these products tested below the FDA guidance level for inorganic arsenic,” said Jason Jacobs, vice president, Food Safety and Quality.

The recall follows the FDA guidance level limits on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal set in August 2020. There are no limits on arsenic in other baby foods or limits for other heavy metals, including cadmium, lead, and mercury despite the potential health risk to young children.

 

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