A 2021 Congress report released by the House of Representatives Committee on Economic and Consumer Policy revealed that most baby foods in the US contained alarming levels of toxins, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. This report has been backed up by other studies conducted over the years. In a study commissioned in 2019 by the nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), 95% of baby foods tested contained heavy metals, among other toxins.
Five hundred thousand children in the US aged one to five years have blood lead levels (BLL) above the CDC recommended. High levels of these contaminants are likely to affect a baby’s developing brain leading to autism, among other conditions. The WHO and FDA have warned about the health risks of these elements. FDA studies revealed that exposure to heavy metals causes neurological damage and affects the child’s brain development.
After the Congress sub-committee report was released on baby food, parents of children with certain brain conditions, including autism and ADHD, began filing lawsuits against baby food manufacturers countrywide. Beech-Nut Nutrition, Gerber, Plum Organics, Sprout Foods Inc., and Walmart are the defendants in these lawsuits. It also alleges that these companies sold harmful products for years without warning buyers about the risks they posed to babies’ developing brains. The baby foods with toxic heavy metals lawsuit attorneys from Stephens & Stephens can help you pursue litigation.
FDA Guidelines on heavy metal content in baby foods
The report released by Congress also revealed that baby food manufacturers knew that their products contained these toxins from their internal testing and did nothing to reduce them. In 2019, the FDA announced its “closer to zero” program to lower the heavy metal content in baby foods. In January 2023, the agency proposed regulations for allowed lead levels in some baby foods. However, they are yet to finalize these regulations to enforce them.
Critics believe that the agency is taking longer than necessary to provide comprehensive guidelines to manufacturers while these harmful products are still selling in stores. In February, Capital Hill lawmakers sent a letter to FDA commissioner Robert Calif criticizing the agency for delaying addressing heavy metal content in baby foods. The letter also demanded immediate action to expedite final regulatory guidance on acceptable levels of heavy metals for baby food manufacturers and dealers.
January 2024 Baby food heavy metal lawsuits updates
In January 2024, lawyers in these lawsuits filed a motion to transfer and consolidate baby food heavy metal lawsuits in an MDL. The lawyers argue that consolidating the lawsuits will help navigate the challenges of handling cases independently, including duplication of discovery and inconsistent rulings. These include all cases alleging their children suffered neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and ADHD, from consuming baby food contaminated with heavy metals, which affect early childhood brain development. Potential venues for the proceedings include the District of Nevada, Central District of California, Northern District of California, and Eastern District of Louisiana.
Previously dismissed cases against Beech-Nut Nutrition Co. were successfully appealed at the Second Circuit courts. The dismissal was based on the FDA’s “close to zero” limits for heavy metals in baby foods. However, the FDA did not meet its projected timelines. Defendants argued that waiting for the FDA to act would take more time.
Plaintiffs in the baby food lawsuits suffered a blow after the courts found inadmissible an expert testimony linking autism and attention deficit disorders to the consumption of baby food tainted with harmful heavy metals.
About the toxic baby food lawsuits
Some of the defendant companies in the baby food litigation, such as Beech-Nut, have filed motions seeking dismissal of most of the cases. In this motion, the defense argues that limited scientific evidence shows that their products are unsafe or could cause autism. Also, they put forward a preemption defense based on the FDA confirmation that these products are safe. Additionally, they state that these lawsuits conflict with the FDA’s authority to regulate heavy metals in baby foods.
In May 2022, a California court judge denied a motion by a group of baby food manufacturers seeking the exclusion of expert witness testimony that suggests a causal link between the development of autism and ADHD and the consumption of baby foods containing heavy metals. These four expert witnesses testified that lead, arsenic, and mercury can contribute to autism. The defendants sought to have these four experts dismissed, claiming their opinions were scientifically flawed and undermined by analytical gaps. The judge denied the motion and allowed this particular case to proceed. The plaintiff’s attorneys view this as a positive sign of the success of the heavy metal baby food lawsuits.
Plaintiffs in the baby food lawsuits previously sought consolidation of the cases filed in different US district courts into a single MDL. However, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) denied this request, stating that the allegations raised in the cases are specific to the levels of toxins in baby foods from different manufacturers.
Example of a baby food lawsuit: In March 2023, parents of five children jointly filed a lawsuit against baby food manufacturers and distributors, alleging that heavy metals in baby foods caused their children to develop autism spectrum disorders. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Nevada. In this case, the defendants are Beech-Nut Nutrition, Gerber, Plum Organics, Sprout Foods Inc., and Walmart. It also alleges that these companies sold harmful products for years without warning buyers about the risks they posed to babies’ developing brains.
Baby Food Consumer Class Action Lawsuits
In February 2022, 13 plaintiffs filed a new consumer class action lawsuit in California against baby food manufacturers Gerber, Plum Inc., Nuture Inc., and Beech-Nut. It alleged that the manufacturers violated various consumer protection laws by lying that their products were safe. Additionally, the defendants are alleged to be aware of the products’ toxicity and effects on the consumer.
All the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were baby food buyers pursuing economic damages, and none of their children suffered any harm or neurological damage. This complaint is based on heavy metal baby food, the findings of the US Congress. It also sets forth violations of California consumer protection statutes, among six other causes of action.
In October 2022, a federal judge in New Jersey dismissed a consumer class action case against Plum for failure to state a claim. In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that they were defrauded into buying baby food, thinking it was safe yet contained toxic metals. The judge stated that the plaintiff couldn’t show they suffered any financial harm and thus lacked viable consumer fraud claims and couldn’t prove the food they bought was valueless.
Eligibility for filing a baby food lawsuit
Children in the baby food heavy metal lawsuits are under 15 and have developed autism or severe attention deficit disorder (ADHD/ADD) following exposure to heavy metal baby foods for at least one year. Autism must have been diagnosed between the ages of two and fourteen, while ADHD must have been diagnosed between eight and fourteen years.
If you suspect your child’s autism or ADHD occurred from heavy metal baby food, reach out, and we will help you file a lawsuit.
Heavy metals and ADHD
Heavy metals such as lead interrupt the dopamine pathway, a neurotransmitter associated with ADHD. As a result, it damages the dopaminergic neuron, disrupting the homeostasis of calcium-dependent neurotransmitters. ADHD is a common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder and is usually first diagnosed in childhood, lasting throughout their lives. Children with ADHD have trouble controlling impulsive behaviors, paying attention, and being overly active.
Possible causes of ADHD include genetics, brain injuries, low birth weight, premature delivery, exposure to environmental factors such as lead at early ages during pregnancy, and alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy. Treatment is through medication and therapy.
Heavy metal baby foods and autism
Studies have shown that baby foods contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins are associated with developmental and neurological delays. Some studies suggest childhood exposure to heavy metals can lead to brain damage, reduced IQ, and behavioral problems. As a result, these problems affect the child throughout their lives leading to low intelligence and earning capacities.
Studies by the CDC indicate that one out of every forty-four children born in the US since 2010 has autism, and 2% of all the children in the US have the condition. The increasing rise in autism could be due to the heavy metal levels in baby foods.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad range of conditions characterized by repetitive behaviors and challenges in social skills, speech, and nonverbal communication. The conditions generally impair the person’s ability to communicate and interact. The signs of autism appear between the ages of two and three. Early diagnosis, behavioral, educational, and family therapies help reduce symptoms and support learning, improving the person’s quality of life. These symptoms often last throughout the person’s life. However, with intervention, they may improve over time.
Some children begin showing ASD symptoms before 12 months, while others do later. Also, some autistic children keep developing and gaining new skills until 18 to 24 months, when they begin to lose the skills they once had. As autistic children become adults, they experience communication challenges and building and maintaining friendships. From adolescence to adulthood, autistic people suffer from depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder occurs from differences in the brain, and the risk factors include:
- Having a sibling with ASD
- Chromosomal conditions or genetic, such as tuberous sclerosis and fragile X syndrome
- Complications at birth
- Being born to older parents
Autism and lead poisoning
Exposure to high levels of lead or lead neurotoxicity creates symptoms autistic-like symptoms. In some cases, lead poisoning can be treated. It also becomes easier to manage and treat when detected early. Lead poisoning symptoms include:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
- Loss of appetite
Childhood lead poisoning and ASD are associated with neurological and behavioral symptoms, poor appetite, restricted food choices, and gastrointestinal problems (constipation and abdominal discomfort). These similarities have led to suggestions that lead poisoning could contribute to autism. Some studies suggest that the compulsive chewing of items in autistic children could be linked to lead poisoning as it exposes them more to lead.
A study investigating the epidemiological characteristics of severe lead poisoning in NY established a trend of severe lead poisoning among autistic children of 5.99 years compared to non-autistic children of 3.69 years. However, despite these overlapping findings, there is no evidence that lead poisoning causes ASD, but misdiagnosis is possible. For instance, when a child with severe lead poisoning was misdiagnosed with autism, the symptoms improved with chelation treatment. The child’s symptoms included hearing problems and neurodevelopment.
There is no cure for autism, but it can be managed through treatment plans. People with autism have different challenges; thus, treatments may differ.
Lead in baby food
According to WHO, CDC, AMA, EPA, and AAP, no lead blood level is safe for a baby or a child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead kills developing brain cells, resulting in irreversible brain damage. Unfortunately, nearly all foods purchased at the store or grown at home contain lead. Of all the foods tested in the Congress sub-committee study, Earth’s Best had the highest lead levels, as high as 352 ppb.
Lead occurs naturally in the ground and is taken up by plants, making its way to the food chain. It is also commonly used to manufacture lead batteries, and the mining, processing, and use, increases its levels in the immediate environment. Studies have shown that lead has a half-life of 30 years, making it more likely to accumulate in the body tissues, leading to health complications and cancer. Lead is easily absorbed in the body and stored in the bones. During pregnancy, lead stored in the bones is released alongside other essential elements and taken up by the fetus.
A 2022 Healthy Babies Bright Future study indicated that 80% of baby food puree from stores and homemade contained lead. Exposure to lead has more severe health effects on a baby than on adults. It can cause brain and nervous system damage, slow growth and development, learning and behavioral problems, and hearing and speech difficulties.
The FDA has been releasing the action levels of different heavy metals in baby foods, which aim to reduce baby food lead levels by 24% to 27%. It is worth noting that nearly all baby foods sold in the US already comply with the FDA guidelines.
The lead levels in foods are measured in parts per billion. The FDA proposed allowable lead levels in baby and toddler foods such as cereals should not exceed 20 parts per billion.
Other processed baby foods such as should not exceed ten parts per billion. These include:
- Baby food custards
- Food mixtures such as grain and meat-based blends,
- Single-ingredient meats
Root vegetables naturally containing higher lead levels should not exceed 20 parts per billion. These include carrots and sweet potatoes. Baby rice products, which make up a significant part of baby diets, are also naturally high in lead, and the FDA proposes they don’t exceed 100 parts per billion.
Arsenic occurs in two forms: organic and inorganic. Inorganic arsenic is highly toxic and often used as a poison. According to the WHO, inorganic arsenic is a confirmed carcinogenic and significant water contaminant. It naturally occurs at high levels in underground water in certain regions. Arsenic enters the human body when contaminated water is used for irrigation or drinking. Long-term exposure to arsenic from food or drinking water can cause cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Arsenic interferes with fetal and early childhood cognitive development.
Numerous studies associate arsenic exposure in early childhood with negative cognitive development, intelligence, and memory. Arsenic is linked to pregnancy complications and infant mortality. Fetus and early childhood exposure to arsenic leads to high mortality in young adults from multiple cancers (skin, bladder, and lungs), heart attacks, kidney failure, and lung disease.
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) of arsenic in public drinking water is ten parts per billion (ppb), the FDA action level for bottled water. The Congress subcommittee reported some levels of arsenic in baby foods. Earth’s Best baby food products tested the highest for this toxic element with 129 ppb. The report also indicated that these companies knew about the toxin levels in their products from their internal testing but ignored it.
Before the release of the Congress report, the FDA had only set heavy metal limits for infant cereal rice, and arsenic should not exceed 100 parts per billion. However, experts believe these levels are too high, linking them to neurodevelopmental toxicity and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Cadmium is a toxic metal exposed to the environment through mining. It makes batteries, alloys, and pigments, among others. Once released into the air, it goes to the soil, where plants take it up. Breathing high levels of this heavy metal can damage the lungs or cause death. Cadmium is carcinogenic, and long-term exposure leads to kidney disease and fragile bones. Plants containing high levels of cadmium include tobacco, rice, cereal grains, vegetables, nuts, pulses, oilseeds, and potatoes. Children are more susceptible to cadmium poisoning. When ingested at high levels, it can lead to kidney damage, vomiting, diarrhea, and death.
Cadmium is neurotoxic for babies and acts as an endocrine disruptor interfering with a baby’s neurodevelopment. Due to its high toxicity, cadmium has been banned for use in electronic equipment in Europe. It also has low excretion rates affecting the kidneys, thus remains in the body for years and can accumulate from continued exposure. The FDA has yet to set baby food limits for cadmium.
Mercury is also highly toxic, affecting the nervous system and causing brain damage in children. Like other heavy metals, due to low excretion, it remains in the body, affecting the kidneys and the liver. It also causes other problems, including brain injuries, depression, tremors, sight and hearing loss, and cognitive and memory problems. Studies have also linked mercury exposure to autism in babies, with autistic children having higher mercury levels in their blood serum. FDA has yet to set mercury limits for baby foods. Currently, drinking water mercury levels should not exceed two ppb.
The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021
In March 2021, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi introduced the Baby Food Safety Act to the House to establish the maximum allowable concentrations of the four heavy metals in infant and toddler food, defined as “products sold 36 months old”. This bill has yet to pass the Senate, and once it is passed into law, it will put the issue of heavy metals in baby foods to rest.
It proposes the following heavy metal limits for baby foods:
- Ten ppb inorganic arsenic cap on general baby foods and fifteen ppb inorganic arsenic cap on infant cereal
- Five ppb lead cap on baby foods and ten ppb lead cap on infant cereal
- Five ppb cadmium cap on baby foods and ten ppb cap on infant cereal
- Two ppb mercury cap on all baby foods