Baby Food Litigation Continues to Develop

A complaint against five baby food companies, Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation, Hain Celestial Group Inc., Nurture Inc., Gerber Products Co., and Plum Public Benefit Corp. was filed in the New York Eastern District Court on Wednesday. The class-action complaint follows a report claiming major baby food companies produce products containing heavy metals released by the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, part of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. 

The plaintiff, Michelle Walls, filed the complaint for herself and her infant son. The filing explained that the plaintiff “places a premium on only exposing her infant son … to the safest and highest quality foods available on the market,” and the products produced by the defendants were marketed as “the best and healthiest options available.” +“Like so many parents, Walls reasonably believed that Defendants’ baby foods were safe to feed to her son,” the complaint said. Walls explained that now she knows there are levels of heavy metals in the baby foods which could cause decreases in IQ and claimed the deceptive business practices of the defendants have caused harm “to countless children” 

Since the report’s release on February 4, each of the companies has received multiple lawsuits purporting that the presence of heavy metals in the baby foods without labels on the packaging disclosing it is misleading to consumers and constitutes fraud. Allegations against the companies include that they are unjustly enriching their products because they are not alerting consumers to the presence of heavy metals. 

The defendants have not yet responded to many of the legal complaints, however, some have made statements to the press discussing their efforts to ensure that baby foods are safe and limit the amounts of heavy metals. Nurture, in a press release responding to the House Subcommittee report, said, “nothing is more important to Earth’s Best than the trust and confidence of parents that our organic products provide safe nutrition for healthy babies. Our rigorous internal standards and testing procedures ensure Earth’s Best products meet or exceed the current federal guidelines.” 

Campbell, which owns Plum, also responded to the House Subcommittee report citing data that was not included in the report and explaining that its products are safe. The company said that it does test its baby foods and that the levels in each product have been “deemed acceptable” by independent parties. 

A group, including each of the defendants, created the Baby Food Council in early 2019, according to a 2019 report the council released, it found “detectable levels of heavy metals” in 95 percent of baby food products. The council is designed to find ways to reduce heavy metals in the environment and seek to keep them out of the foods they produce. 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, however, claimed that the companies should be disclosing the presence of heavy metals which could be harmful especially to the development of babies and young children. There are currently no regulations for levels of heavy metals in baby foods, each company follows their own internal standards, but there are standards for other items including bottled water. Walls asked the court for injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief for herself and others in the class, specifically for the defendants to be required to disclose levels of heavy metals in their products on labels and complete accurate tests. 

Michelle Walls and her son are represented by Pollock Cohen LLP