When it comes to the food we buy, Americans have definitely grown more health conscious over recent years. While older generations may have trusted food manufacturers to act in their best interests, many consumers now carefully research products and read labels when making purchasing decisions. The importance of quality to consumers is demonstrated by the fact that the organic food industry, which started approximately three decades ago, continues to grow at a yearly double-digit pace. In fact, the chances are good that your favorite supermarket devotes a fair amount of shelf space to organic products.
But what about baby food? One would hope that reading baby food labels would provide parents with all the information they need to make informed decisions when purchasing food for their children. Unfortunately, virtually any food product we purchase can be adulterated at various stages of production, and baby food is no different. In this article, we will discuss the potential presence of heavy metals in baby food.
The United States Government Gets Involved
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Reform contacted seven large American baby food manufacturers and requested internal testing results and other documents. The following companies were contacted:
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company
- Campbell Soup Company (sells Plum Organic products)
- Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (sells Earth’s Best Organic)
- Nurture, Inc. (sells Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY products)
- Sprout Foods, Inc.
- Walmart Inc. (sells Parent’s Choice products)
After reviewing and analyzing the documents provided by four of the companies (Beech-Nut, Gerber, Hain, and Nurture), on February 4, 2021 the Subcommittee issued a Staff Report labeled “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury” (PDF). Indeed, the Staff Report includes a finding that “commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.”
Notably, the Staff Report also states that three of the companies they contacted (Campbell, Sprout Organic Foods, and Walmart) refused to cooperate with the investigation. The Subcommittee expressed the concern that this failure to cooperate might obscure toxic heavy metal levels in their products exceeding those of their competitors.
The Dangers of Toxic Heavy Metals
The Staff Report cites research demonstrating that toxic heavy metals can be particularly harmful to children. Babies’ systems absorb more heavy metals than do those of adults, and babies’ developing brains are extremely sensitive and vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Exposure to these metals can have permanent effects on brain development, and long-term exposure has even been linked to cancers, reproductive problems, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
A number of lawsuits have been filed, but it is not yet clear how successful they could be. There are a number of challenges to be overcome.
For example, one argument made by manufacturers is that all things grown in the ground and exposed to air and water will have at least trace amounts of heavy metals. The FDA agrees. While this should not shield a company from producing a product with dangerous levels of a toxic substance, it may be difficult for a plaintiff to prove the level of toxic metals included in the food the child (or children) at issue consumed. Moreover, the level of toxic metal deemed unsafe is up to debate.
Additionally, any plaintiff in a lawsuit has to prove that his or her damages were caused by the defendant’s behavior. Therefore, expert evidence tying a baby’s harm to the ingestion of the particular product at issue will be crucial.
There are many other complicated legal issues that are being explored in different venues.
Call with Questions
When it comes to the safety and reliability of a product, nothing is more important than baby food. Developing babies are particularly susceptible to harmful substances and parents need to be able to trust that the baby food they purchase is safe.
If you have a child that you believe was harmed by unsafe baby food, we would be happy to talk with you about your particular circumstances and answer your questions. The experienced personal injury and product liability lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield believe that the best way to keep everyone safe is by holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions.