On February 4, 2021, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released a shocking report on toxic metals in baby food. The report, titled ‘Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury,’ found dangerously high levels of heavy metals in many of the leading baby food brands. These toxic metals can harm neurological development and are linked to autism and ADHD in children.
Attorneys are now pursuing baby food lawsuits on behalf of parents with children who developed autism or ADHD after regularly consuming baby food products from several leading brands. Spurred by the details of the baby food report, parents are pursuing justice to hold these companies accountable for their recklessness.
If you would like more information on pursuing a baby food toxic metals lawsuit, please contact us or give us a call at (855) 948-5098 for a free and confidential case evaluation.
What Does the 2021 Baby Food Report Say?
Between 2018 and 2019, multiple reports from consumer safety groups found high levels of heavy metals in baby food. In 2019, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy sought to learn more about this important issue and requested data from several of the leading baby food manufacturers in the United States, including:
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company
- Campbell Soup Company – Sells baby foods under the brand name Plum Organics
- Hain Celestial Group Inc. – Sells baby foods under the brand name Earth’s Best Organic
- Nurture Inc. – Sells baby foods under the brand names Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY
- Sprout Foods Inc.
- Walmart Inc. – Sells baby foods through its private brand Parent’s Choice
Four of the companies—Beech-Nut, Gerber, Hain, and Nurture—complied with the request and produced internal testing protocols, procedures, and results. According to the report, toxic heavy metals were present in baby foods manufactured by all of the responding companies. Furthermore, all of the responding companies set dangerously high toxic metals standards for their foods and routinely ignored those standards by selling products with high levels of heavy metals.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows drinking water to contain 10 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb of cadmium, and 5 ppb of lead. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows drinking water to contain 2 ppb of mercury. The 2021 report on baby foods found up to 91 times more than the acceptable level of arsenic, up to 69 times more than the acceptable level of cadmium, up to 177 times more than the acceptable level of lead, and up to 5 times more than the acceptable level of mercury.
Below we go into the report’s specifics regarding toxic heavy metals in baby foods.
Arsenic in Baby Foods
The Subcommittee found the following levels of arsenic in baby foods from the four companies that complied with the data request:
- Beech-Nut typically only tested product ingredients in isolation, not finished products sold in stores. According to the data, the company still used ingredients in baby foods that tested as high as 913.4 ppb of arsenic. Beech-Nut also routinely used additives that tested at over 300 ppb of arsenic to address product concerns like “crumb softness.”
- Gerber used 67 batches of rice flour that had tested over 90 ppb inorganic arsenic.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) baby foods contained as much as 129 ppb of inorganic arsenic. The report noted that Hain typically only tested product ingredients in isolation, not finished products sold in stores. According to the data, Hain baby foods used ingredients that tested as high as 309 ppb of arsenic.
- Nurture (Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY) baby foods that contained as much as 180 ppb of inorganic arsenic. According to the report, more than 1 in every 4 of the products tested before sale contained inorganic arsenic at levels exceeding 100 ppb. Furthermore, a typical Nurture baby food product contained 60 ppb inorganic arsenic.
Cadmium in Baby Foods
The Subcommittee found the following levels of cadmium in baby foods from the four companies that complied with the data request:
- Beech-Nut baby food products used more than 100 ingredients that contained over 20 ppb of cadmium. Some ingredients tested at up to 344.55 ppb of cadmium.
- Roughly 75% of Gerber’s carrots tested for cadmium at levels in excess of 5 ppb. Some contained more than 87 ppb of cadmium.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) baby food products used more than 100 ingredients that tested over 20 ppb of cadmium. Some of these ingredients tested up to 260 ppb of cadmium.
- Nearly two-thirds of Nurture (HappyBABY) baby food products contained more than 5 ppb of cadmium.
Lead in Baby Foods
The Subcommittee found the following levels of lead in baby foods from the four companies that complied with the data request:
- Beech-Nut baby foods used ingredients that tested as high as 886.9 ppb of lead. A total of 483 ingredients contained over 5 ppb of lead, 89 tested at over 15 ppb of lead, and 57 that contained over 20 ppb of lead.
- Gerber baby foods used ingredients that contained up to 48 ppb of lead. Many of the ingredients tested contained over 20 ppb lead.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) baby foods used ingredients that tested as high as 352 ppb of lead. A total of 88 ingredients tested higher than 20 ppb of lead. Six ingredients tested at over 200 ppb of lead.
- Nurture (HappyBABY) products sold in stores tested as high as 641 ppb of lead. Roughly one in five finished baby food products that Nurture tested contained over 10 ppb of lead.
Mercury in Baby Foods
The Subcommittee found the following levels of mercury in baby foods from the responding companies (only Nurture regularly tests its baby foods for mercury):
- Beech-Nut does not test for mercury in its baby foods.
- Gerber rarely tests for mercury in its baby foods.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) does not test for mercury in its baby foods.
- Nurture (HappyBABY) sold baby foods containing as much as 10 ppb mercury.
What Baby Foods Have Heavy Metals?
The 2021 baby food report implicated many products, including popular cereals, purees, juices, and snack puffs. The subcommittee dedicated a lot of attention to products high in rice content, which include snack puffs, cookies, crackers, crisps, and teething biscuits.
- Apple & Broccoli Puffs – Up to 180 ppb arsenic
- Apple Rice Cakes – Up to 130 ppb arsenic
- Banana & Pumpkin Puffs – Up to 160 ppb arsenic
- Blueberry Beet Rice Cakes – Up to 120 ppb arsenic
- Kale & Spinach Puffs – Up to 150 ppb arsenic
- Purple Carrot & Blueberry Puffs – Up to 150 ppb arsenic
- Strawberry & Beet Puffs – Up to 160 ppb arsenic
- Sweet Potato & Carrot Puffs– Up to 150 ppb arsenic
- Apple Rice Cakes – Up to 130 ppb arsenic
- Blueberry Beet Rice Cakes – Up to 120 ppb arsenic
- Gerber used conventional sweet potatoes in its baby food products that tested as high as 48 ppb of lead. The average amount of lead in Gerber’s tested juice concentrates was 11.2 ppb.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) used rice flour in its products that tested as high as 309 ppb of arsenic. The company also used raisin and wheat flour that tested at 200 ppb arsenic, and cinnamon that tested at 353 ppb of lead.
- Beech-Nut set internal arsenic and cadmium standards for additives like vitamin mix at 3,000 ppb. The company also set a 5,000 ppb lead standard for certain ingredients like BAN 800, an enzyme to address “crumb softness.” Another added enzyme, amylase, was tested at 913.40 ppb of arsenic.
- Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) used a vitamin mix that contained 223 ppb of arsenic and 352 ppb lead.
What About the Companies That Did Not Comply with the 2021 Baby Food Investigation?
Walmart (Parent’s Choice), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Company (Plum Organics did not cooperate with the investigation. The Subcommittee did not mince words expressing its disappointment:
“The Subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products,” the report states.
The three companies manufacture foods for babies as young as four months. According to independent testing, all of the companies manufacture baby foods that contain “concerning levels of toxic heavy metals.”
Will the House Report Lead to a Baby Food Recall?
None of the brands cited in the House report have issued baby food recalls and the government has no plans at this time to force any recalls. However, the report did make the following recommendations to improve the safety of baby foods:
Mandatory Testing: The FDA should require baby food companies to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals, not just test the ingredients independently.
Food Labels: The FDA should require baby food companies to report levels of toxic metals on the labels of their products.
Phase Out Toxic Ingredients: If ingredients in baby foods contain high levels of heavy metals, the companies should voluntarily find substitute ingredients or phase out products that have high amounts of ingredients that frequently test high in heavy metals.
Set Maximum Heavy Metals Standards: The FDA should set maximum allowable levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods. Each toxic metal should have one level applied across all baby foods and the level should be set to protect babies against the neurological effects of toxic heavy metals.
Avoid Foods with Ingredients That Test High: If the FDA institutes the recommendations listed above, Parents should be able to make informed decisions about which baby foods to avoid.
What is the FDA Doing to Stop This?
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the tainted baby food report is that this important issue has been on the FDA’s radar for many years and the agency has simply failed to act. As the Subcommittee pointed out, without FDA leadership and oversight, baby food companies are free to set their own internal standards for levels of toxic metals in their products. Some do not even test their products at all for heavy metals. Worse, the very same companies are free to ignore those standards and sell their products anyway without warning parents about the high levels of heavy metals and the risks they carry.
A little over a week after the Subcommittee issued the baby food report, the FDA released a response. The agency stated that toxic metals are present in the environment and may be found in food via the soil, water, or air. Thus, the agency argued, they cannot be completely avoided in baby food products.
While achieving a heavy metals standard of zero for baby foods may not be possible, it is certainly possible to make foods without “dangerously high levels” of heavy metals, according to attorneys pursuing baby food lawsuits.
“The FDA’s lackluster response to this critical issue once again demonstrates the agency’s prioritization of industry over people,” says baby food attorney Pedram Esfandiary. “As the Subcommittee noted, the agency currently does not require baby food manufacturers to test finished products for toxic heavy metals. No valid explanation exists for this absurd and dangerous policy except to ensure that manufacturers can freely do business without regard for the risk to unknowing infants. To be clear, these manufacturers do not even warn of the substantial presence of toxic heavy metals in their food. It seems that, once again, litigation must be the driving force behind meaningful change.”
Pursuing a Baby Food Lawsuit
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is investigating the link between baby foods and heavy metals that are positively associated with autism and ADHD. Our baby food attorneys are outraged by the recklessness of the companies listed in the House Subcommittee’s report. We intend to hold them accountable in baby food heavy metal lawsuits.
Parents: If your child was diagnosed with autism or ADHD after eating products from the following companies, we are interested in pursuing justice on your behalf:
- Earth’s Best Organic
- Happy Family Organics
- Parent’s Choice
- Plum Organics
- Sprout Organic Foods
To learn more about pursuing a baby food heavy metals lawsuit, please contact us or give us a call at (855) 948-5098 for a free and confidential case evaluation.