On Friday, four individuals filed a class-action complaint in the New Jersey District Court against Gerber Products Company, which also does business as Nestle Nutrition, claiming that the company participated in fraud and unjust enrichment because it did not reveal that its products contain significant levels of heavy metals.
The complaint said, “unbeknown to Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Classes, and contrary to the representations on the Products’ label, the Products contain heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, and lead at levels above what is considered safe for babies, which, if disclosed to Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Classes prior to purchase, would have caused Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Classes not to purchase or consume the Products.”
This filing occurred the day after a House of Representatives Subcommittee released a staff report showing that multiple baby food companies’ produce and sell foods which contain “dangerous levels” of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. The committee recommended that the Food and Drug Administration set uniform standards in the industry, require testing for finished products, and require baby food labels to report the heavy metals.
Thursday’s report contained self-reported information from Gerber including that it used “67 batches of rice flour that had tested over 90 ppb (parts per billion) inorganic arsenic.” Gerber also used “many ingredients” with over 20 ppb lead, and some as high as 48 ppb lead. Gerber said that 75 percent of the carrots it tested contained over 5 ppb of cadmium, but it sold carrots with up to 87 ppb of cadmium. The company also said it “rarely” tests for mercury.
The plaintiffs explained that these amounts “are multiples higher than allowed under existing regulations for other products,” and specifically compared them to regulations for bottled water. The plaintiffs alleged that children are more vulnerable to lead and the other metals and that these levels of heavy metals should not be allowed in products for children.
Gerber’s reported numbers are similar to those of other companies’ which gave reports to the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy including Beech-Nut which received a similar complaint, Nurture, and Hain or Earth’s Best Organic. The subcommittee explained that it was also worried about the heavy metal amounts in baby foods produced by Walmart, Sprout Foods, and Campbell which did not respond to its requests.
Friday’s complaint cited Gerber’s website which claims that the company is “the world’s most trusted name in baby food,” and purported that this claim is misleading as it does not list heavy metals as an ingredient or provide any warnings. According to the filing, Gerber controls 70 to 80 percent of the United States’ baby food market.
The named plaintiffs, including four individuals who purchased Gerber baby foods, asked the court to approve a class including anyone throughout the United States who purchased Gerber brand baby food. The complaint cites claims of unjust enrichment and misleading trade practices in multiple states. The parties asked the court for damages and restitution from Gerber.
The plaintiffs are represented by Shub Law Firm.