DC Attorney General’s Lawsuit Says Baby Food Maker Misled
WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C.’s attorney general sued baby food maker Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. this week with claims the company misled consumers by failing to disclose toxic metals in its food.
The lawsuit filed in District of Columbia Superior Court incorporates evidence from a congressional report in February that said dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury were found in Beech-Nut’s and other companies’ baby food.
The D.C. lawsuit joins others filed by consumers nationwide after the congressional report from the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine says Beech-Nut’s advertising violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act through false safety claims and inaccurate advertisement.
The company’s ads say the food underwent the most stringent testing and was completely healthy for babies.
Its website ads say its baby foods “are free from artificial preservatives, colors and flavor” and the company “conduct[s] over 20 rigorous tests on our purees, testing for up to 255 pesticides and heavy metals (like lead, cadmium, arsenic and other nasty stuff).”
Beech-Nut says it is “aware of no higher standards in the industry than the ones we employ” and that “[j]ust like you would, we send the produce back if it’s not good enough.”
However, Racine’s lawsuit says, “The reality is quite different. Multiple studies over recent years have found high levels of toxic heavy metals in Beech-Nut’s baby foods.”
“Toxic heavy metals have a disproportionate adverse effect on the developing minds and bodies of babies and young children,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks that Beech-Nut be enjoined from misrepresenting its products and pay civil penalties.
Other lawsuits name The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Nurture Inc., Gerber Products Company, and Plum PBC as additional defendants.
The congressional report that prompted the lawsuits followed a study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce children’s exposure to toxic chemicals. It found toxic chemicals in 95% of the foods tested.
The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy requested internal test reports from seven of the largest baby food makers.
The four that responded are defendants in some of the lawsuits. Three others, namely Walmart, Campbell (Plum Organics), and Sprout Organics, refused to cooperate. The subcommittee said in a statement that it had “grave concern” about products made by the three companies that did not respond.
A study authorized by the congressional committee found results similar to Healthy Babies Bright Futures.
The first lawsuit was filed by Staten Island, N.Y. resident Michelle Walls, who fed the suspect food to her one-year-old child. A federal court granted her class action status when she claimed to be representing all parents who purchased the foods.
The lawsuit cited “the defendants’ apparent knowledge of such toxic metals in their baby foods, and their apparent failure to take any steps to protect the infants and young babies regularly ingesting such toxic metals.”
As in the Washington, D.C., lawsuit, the New York woman accused the companies of deceit.
She listed examples of advertisements from baby food companies that assured consumers their products were safe. The ads said the companies thoroughly tested their raw ingredients to ensure there were no contaminants.
Walls’ lawsuit quoted warnings from the congressional report of serious consequences when it said that “babies’ developing brains are exceptionally sensitive to injury caused by toxic chemicals, and several developmental processes have been shown to be highly vulnerable to chemical toxicity. The fact that babies are small, have other developing organ systems, and absorb more of the heavy metals than adults, exacerbates their risk from exposure to heavy metals.”
The baby food companies continue to insist in public statements that their products are safe.
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