Campbell Soup Company, which produces Plum Organics baby food, and Plum, a company that Campbell purchased in 2013, received a class-action lawsuit in the District of New Jersey on Thursday purporting that it breached Illinois consumer fraud and deceptive trade laws and national unjust enrichment laws when it allowed heavy metals into its baby food products without disclosing their presence.
On February 4, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy which is part of the Committee on Oversight and Reform released a report showing that baby foods are “tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.”
The subcommittee reached out to seven major baby food manufacturers and asked for internal reports showing heavy metal levels, the four companies which responded, Nurture, Beech-Nut Nutrition, Hain Celestial Group, and Gerber, have each seen multiple lawsuits since the report. Thursday’s complaint, however, is likely the first filed against one of the companies which the subcommittee’s report said did not respond to their request, Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout Organic Foods. The lack of response caused the subcommittee to say it was concerned the company could be hiding higher levels of heavy metals.
Campbell, however, in a press release shortly after the report was released said that it did respond to the Subcommittee’s request for information from the company. “We responded quickly to their questions … and never refused anything requested of us. We are surprised that the Committee would suggest that Campbell was less than full partners in this mission. We welcomed the opportunity to work with the Committee in 2019—and continue to do so today,” the press release said. Campbells further reported that the answers which it sent in a letter to the subcommittee showed that levels for heavy metals in its food were “well within levels deemed acceptable by independent authorities.”
The complaint reported that Campbell “produced a spreadsheet, which declares that their baby food met the criteria for mercury,” but critiqued that it did not establish specific threshold for meeting the criteria because they did not use high-risk ingredients. The complaint quoted the Subcommittee saying in response to this that “evasion is concerning, as even limited independent testing has revealed the presence of toxic heavy metals in their baby food.”
The complaint explained that Plum calls itself a “team parent” and advertises “Parenting is hard. That’s why Plum is easy.” However, the websites and advertisements never warn about the possibility of heavy metals in the baby foods. The plaintiff claimed that if they and others in the class had known about the presence of toxic heavy metals they would not have purchased the products.
Campbell claimed that its Plum baby food products are safe and that it works to keep heavy metals found in the environment from entering its products. “Campbell is confident in the safety and quality of our products,” Amanda Pisano, Senior Manager for External Communications with Campbell told Law Street Media. “The company does not comment on pending litigation, but we do intend to defend this case vigorously.”
Any individuals who purchased baby food manufactured by the defendant are included in the putative class, although some claims only apply to the Illinois sub-class. The plaintiff, Erin Smid, is represented by Shub Law Firm LLC; Mason Lietz & Klinger, LLP; Goldenber Schneider, L.P.A; and Levin Sedran & Berman, LLP.
On Thursday, in addition to the complaint filed against Campbell, at least three other complaints in federal courts accused baby food companies of similar activity. These lawsuits include an Eastern District of New York class-action complaint against Hain Celestial Group, a Northern District of New York class-action complaint against Beech-Nut Nutrition, and a Southern District of New York class-action complaint against Nurture which specifically had allegations against the company’s flavored rice puffs.