Updated March 3, 2021 - 6:20 pm
A group of local parents is suing four national baby food manufacturers after a congressional report released last month found their popular products are tainted with high levels of toxic metals.
Filed in Clark County District Court late Tuesday, the lawsuit alleges that Beech-Nut Nutrition Inc., Hain Celestial Group Inc., Gerber Products Co. Inc. and Nurture, Inc. all sell baby food that contains high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.
According to the congressional report released Feb. 4 by the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, the four toxic metals have been classified by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization as “dangerous to human health.”
The congressional report also said that “even low levels of exposure can cause serious and often irreversible damage to brain development” and that babies and children “are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects.”
“Defendants knew that the presence of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products was a material fact to consumers, yet omitted and concealed that fact from consumers,” the lawsuit alleged.
Parent speaks out
Had the families suing known how much toxic metal the food products contained, they would not have purchased them, the complaint argued. Their lawyers, with the Las Vegas firms Eglet Adams and Kemp Jones, said children named in the lawsuits suffered from some level of autism.
Andre Haynes said he noticed changes in his son Andre Haynes Jr. including a lack of focus and increased frustration and aggression.
“He was slower to understand, when I would give him commands or talk to him,” Haynes said. “The ability to understand, to reasonably respond, it definitely diminished.”
Local grocery stores Mariana’s Supermarkets, La Bonita Grocery and Meat Market also are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which alleged that they sold the food in question.
In a Facebook message to a Review-Journal reporter, La Bonita said it was unaware of the lawsuit.
“We will look into it, and if we have a comment, we will let you know,” the message said.
Three baby food manufacturers also emailed the newspaper.
One email said: “Nurture, Inc. stands by the quality and safety of all of its products and is proud to have best-in-class testing protocols in our industry. While we do not comment on pending litigation, we intend to vigorously defend this case.”
In another, company officials wrote: “We want to assure parents that Beech-Nut products are, and have always been, safe and nutritious. We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA, in partnership with the Baby Food Council, on science-based standards that food suppliers can implement across our industry. Beech-Nut is committed to continually refining its internal standards and testing processes as technology and knowledge develops. Beech-Nut has been and will continue to be a leader in providing high-quality baby food products.”
And in the third, a Gerber spokesperson wrote: “While Gerber as a matter of policy does not comment on pending or threatened litigation, we fully stand behind the safety of all of our products. At Gerber, babies are our highest priority. The standards we have in place for the safety and quality of our baby foods are industry-leading, and among the strictest in not just the U.S., but the world.”
Other defendants could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Similar suits in other states
Seven children and their parents or guardians listed as plaintiffs in the complaint.
Attorney Will Kemp said the toxic metals could be traced to exacerbated levels of autism.
“It’s a sad thing when people have autism,” he said at a news conference. “It’s worse when you have a food product like this that contains a toxic substance that has made the problem worse for these families.”
He said “thousands of children” in Nevada could have been affected by the tainted baby food.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in states including California, New York, Illinois, Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey since the congressional report was released.
The FDA’s maximum level of arsenic in bottled water is 10 parts per billion, but food from the four companies contained between about 90 and 913 ppb of arsenic, according to the complaint, which cites the congressional report.
According to the complaint, the FDA’s maximum level of lead in bottled water is 5 ppb, but Gerber baby food contained about 48 ppb of lead, and Beech-Nut baby food contained as much as 886 ppb.