June 9, 2021 – Panel Rules Against Consolidating Lawsuits
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ruled against centralizing the lawsuits detailed on this page, stating in a June 7 order that centralization “is not necessary for the convenience of the parties and witnesses or to further the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.”
While consolidating large numbers of similar cases as part of multidistrict litigation (MDL) has the potential to simplify the proceedings and ensure similar outcomes, the panel noted that the lawsuits at issue here are only similar “[a]t a general level.” Each of the defendants named in the cases has different manufacturing processes, suppliers and quality control procedures, the panel wrote, adding that the claims against each company are likely to succeed or fail based on facts specific to that defendant, such as the amount of heavy metals in their products, internal testing results and marketing practices.
Moreover, the motion to centralize the lawsuits received “numerous and various responses,” with opposition voiced by plaintiffs in 39 of the actions and all of the defendants, the order relays. All told, the JPML was unconvinced that centralization was warranted:
“Given the relatively minimal number of common factual questions, the potential for a multi-defendant MDL to introduce added complexity to this litigation, and the strong opposition of numerous plaintiffs and defendants, we are not persuaded that industry-wide centralization is appropriate,” the panel wrote.
The JPML further argued against centralizing the suits by defendant, noting that centralization should be “the last solution after considered review of all other options.” The panel added that most of the 73 defendant-specific lawsuits have already been transferred to the district where that company is headquartered.
“We believe it is better to allow the parties’ attempts to self-organize play out before centralizing any part of this litigation,” the JPML stated.
April 14, 2021 – FDA Releases Action Plan to Reduce Heavy Metal Levels in Baby Food
On April 8, the FDA released its “Closer to Zero” action plan for reducing toxic elements to “the lowest levels possible” in baby foods.
According to the plan, the FDA aims to propose maximum levels for lead by April 2022 and arsenic by 2024 and finalize these levels in the years thereafter. The plan does not set a timeline for establishing maximum levels of mercury and cadmium in baby foods, which has drawn some criticism. The FDA has noted, however, that because “[t]he availability of data and additional research needs for arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are different,” the agency will begin with proposing maximum levels for lead while evaluating the data for the other heavy metals.
Notably, the heavy metal levels will be issued as a guidance, meaning compliance on the part of baby food manufacturers will be voluntary.
The FDA’s plan comes as the agency has faced political and public pressure to introduce stricter regulations for baby foods following the February congressional report detailed on this page.
Congressmembers Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) introduced on March 25 the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021, which aims to, among other measures, require the FDA to set maximum levels for lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium and require that manufacturers test their final products for toxic heavy metals.
In its announcement of the Closer to Zero Plan, the FDA has also included reminders to parents, caregivers and consumers regarding how to determine infants’ and children’s nutritional needs, as well as warnings about homemade baby food and formula.
April 8, 2021 – New Lawsuit Alleges Defendants Conspired to Hide “Massive Food Fraud Scheme”
A proposed class action filed April 7, 2021 alleges several of the top baby food manufacturers have not only misled consumers with regard to the safety and quality of their baby food products but have conspired to cover up the alleged fraud and “lull consumers and regulators into inaction.”
Alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the sprawling 346-page case out of California claims defendants Plum Organics, Campbell Soup Company, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Gerber Products Company, Nurture, Inc. and Safeway Inc. have, in the wake of the several consumer watchdog reports exposing high levels of heavy metals in their baby food products, issued misleading statements, downplayed the results of the reports and even gone so far as to found a supposedly independent research group to “deflect attention away from their ongoing fraud.”
Per the case, the defendants were “more interested in protecting profits than making meaningful changes to eliminate toxic heavy metal contamination” and have harmed hundreds of thousands of American families as a result of their alleged misconduct.
The lawsuit looks to hold the defendants accountable for the alleged misrepresentations of their baby food products and repay consumers for the harm they’ve suffered as a result:
“Defendants should be required to repay the consumers they lied to and stole from—and be subject [sic] whatever regulatory action and criminal indictments that follow in the wake of this case.”
ClassAction.org’s full writeup of the case can be found over on our Newswire.
March 9, 2021 – Plaintiffs Move to Consolidate Cases in MDL
The plaintiffs in a case similar to the lawsuits detailed on this page have submitted a motion to consolidate all related cases to the Eastern District of New York as part of a multidistrict litigation.
The plaintiffs state in their brief, found here, that they know of 42 other cases—including 38 proposed class actions—filed against baby food manufacturers over the apparent contamination of their products with toxic heavy metals, and they expect more lawsuits to be filed.
According to the brief, the Eastern District of New York is “the most logical and convenient location” for these proceedings, and the actions pending in 12 federal districts all meet the requirements for transfer.
March 2, 2021 – Hain, Beech-Nut Face More Lawsuits
The Hain Celestial Group and Beech-Nut Nutrition have been named in three more lawsuits alleging the companies failed to disclose the presence of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products.
The lawsuit against Hain, found here, looks to cover Massachusetts residents who, within the applicable statute of limitations, purchased the company’s Earth’s Best Organic baby food products, including pouches, purees and snacks, that consist mostly of rice and other ingredients.
A lawsuit filed against Beech-Nut looks to represent anyone in the U.S. who purchased the company’s Beech Nut-Naturals, Beech-Nut Fruities, Beech-Nut Yogurt Melties, Beech-Nut Veggies, Beech-Nut, and Beech-Nut Organics products within the applicable statute of limitations period. A more complete list of covered products can be found on the first few pages of the complaint, found here.
Another lawsuit filed against Beech-Nut looks to represent anyone in the U.S. who, within the applicable statute of limitations period and until the date of class certification, purchased and consumed the following products:
More products may be added to the list as the lawsuit progresses. The suit also proposes a subclass of Mississippi residents who meet the above criteria.
February 26, 2021 – Five More Lawsuits Filed
Five more proposed class action lawsuits have been filed against baby food manufacturers over the alleged presence of toxic heavy metals in their products.
Beech-Nut Nutrition was named as the defendant in three of the suits, with one case seeking that the court require the company to test its products and disclose the levels of heavy metals in the baby food.
A case filed February 18 looks to cover anyone in the U.S. who purchased Beech-Nut baby foods for household or personal use anytime since January 1, 2017, with state-specific subclasses for those who did so in California and New Jersey.
A lawsuit filed February 22 seeks to represent anyone in the U.S. who purchased or consumed Beech-Nut Naturals Green Beans, Beech-Nut Organic Pears or Beech-Nut Organic Sweet Potatoes for household or business use (and not for resale) anytime between October 1, 2015 and the date of class certification, with a proposed subclass for those who did so in Texas.
The third lawsuit, filed February 25, looks to cover those in the U.S. who purchased Beech-Nut baby food products, as well as a state-specific subclass of those who did so in California.
Two more lawsuits were filed against the Hain Celestial Group over products sold under its Earth’s Best Organic brand.
The first lawsuit, filed February 21, looks to represent Colorado residents who purchased Hain’s Earth’s Best Organic products within the applicable statute of limitations.
The second lawsuit, filed February 22, looks to cover anyone who purchased certain Earth’s Best products in the U.S. during the statute of limitations period, as well as those who did so in New York. The first few pages of the complaint, found here, contain a bulleted list of products covered by the case.
February 19, 2021 – Baby Food Makers Hit with Two More Lawsuits
Beech-Nut, Hain, Nurture, Gerber and Plum have been named in another proposed class action out of New York while Nurture alone faces an additional lawsuit.
The case against the five baby food manufacturers was filed by a mother and her one-year-old son and looks to represent anyone who purchased or consumed baby food products made by Beech-Nut, Hain, Nurture (under its Happy Family Organics line), Gerber and Plum within the statute of limitations period.
The lawsuit against Nurture, Inc. looks to cover anyone who, within the applicable statute of limitations period, purchased baby or toddler foods/snacks sold by Nurture that prominently state that the foods are produced by a team of “real [parents or moms], pediatricians & nutritionists on a mission to bring health and happiness to our little ones and the planet” and that “[the Nurture] team creates nutritious meals and snacks.” Also proposed is a subclass of Georgia consumers who meet the same criteria.
The products covered in the suit include, but are not limited to, the following:
HappyBaby Organic Greek Yogis Blueberry and Purple Carrot
There may be additional products added as the lawsuit progresses.
February 16, 2021 – Beech-Nut Faces Another Lawsuit
Another lawsuit was filed against Beech-Nut Nutrition Company over its apparent failure to disclose the presence of toxic heavy metals in its baby food products while representing that the items were safe and healthy.
“Based on Defendant’s decision to advertise, label, and market its Tainted Baby Foods as healthy, nutritious, and safe for consumption, it had a duty to ensure that these statements were true and not misleading, which it failed to do,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit looks to cover anyone who purchased Beech-Nut’s baby food products in the U.S. for personal/household use during the applicable statute of limitations period, with two state-specific subclasses for those who did so in New York and Pennsylvania.
February 13, 2021 – Two More Lawsuits Filed
Gerber Products Company and the Hain Celestial Group have been hit with two more lawsuits filed on February 12 and 13, respectively.
The lawsuit against Gerber looks to represent anyone in the U.S., and a subclass of Texas residents, who purchased or consumed the following products for household or business use within the applicable statute of limitations period: Gerber Rice Single Grain Cereal, Gerber Oatmeal Single Grain Cereal, Gerber Natural Carrot, Gerber Natural Apple Strawberry Banana with Vitamin C, and Gerber Natural Banana Blueberry with Vitamin C.
The lawsuit against Hain looks to represent Illinois and Idaho residents who, within the applicable statute of limitations period, purchased any baby food products under Hain’s Earth’s Best Organic brand, including pouches, purees and snacks that consist mostly of rice and other ingredients.
February 11, 2021 – Nurture, Campbell, Beech-Nut Hit with More Lawsuits
Three more lawsuits were filed on February 11 against Nurture, Inc., Campbell Soup Company, and Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, respectively, over their apparent failure to disclose the presence of toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, in their baby food products.
The lawsuit against Nurture, which sells baby food under its Happy Baby Organics brand, concerns flavored rice puffs that the case says the company deceptively represented as safe and healthy for young children despite the fact that the foods contain heavy metals. The suit looks to cover New York and Wyoming residents who purchased the defendant’s flavored rice puffs within the applicable statute of limitations.
The lawsuit against Campbell, which also names its subsidiary Plum, PBC as a defendant, looks to represent anyone in the U.S. who purchased the following products within the applicable statute of limitations period and until the date of class certification:
Plum Organics Mighty Protein & Fiber Pear White Bean Blueberry Date & Chia
Plum Organics Mighty Protein & Fiber Mango Banana White Bean Sunflower Seed Butter & Chia
Plum Organics Mighty Protein & Fiber Banana White Beat Strawberry Chia
The lawsuit against Beech-Nut looks to represent anyone who purchased baby food products sold under the “Beech-Nut Naturals,” “Beech-Nut Organics” and “Beech-Nut” brands for household or business use anytime since February 10, 2015, with a proposed subclass covering Wisconsin residents who meet the same description. The products include purees of fruit, vegetables, meat broths and grains sold in jars or pouches; cereals; bars; crisps; and dissolving “melties” snacks. More products may be added as the lawsuit progresses.
February 10, 2021 – More Lawsuits Filed, NY AG Calls for FDA Action
Proposed class action lawsuits continue to roll in following last Thursday’s congressional report revealing high levels of toxic heavy metals in popular baby foods.
Gerber and Hain, which makes Earth’s Best Organic baby food, were hit with a proposed class action on February 8, while Hain was named in another proposed class action filed the next day. The cases allege consumers were misled by the companies’ representations and “reasonably believed” that the products were safe and healthy for babies. Meanwhile, Gerber and Hain failed to disclose that their popular baby food products contained levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury considered to be unsafe for consumption, the suits claim.
The New York Attorney General on February 9 called on the FDA to take action in response to the congressional report described on this page. In a letter addressed to acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, New York Attorney General Letitia James urged the agency to implement the suggestions set forth in the report, which included setting standards for heavy metal levels across all baby foods and requiring manufacturers to test their finished products, not just ingredients, for toxic heavy metals. The letter further stated that consumers should be able to “clearly see” on baby food labels the reported levels of heavy metals so they can be fully informed of what they’re feeding their children.
According to the letter, the FDA sets limits on toxic metals in other consumer products, such as bottled water, juice and candy, but has failed to do so when it comes to baby food. Only after “years of effort” has the FDA recently introduced regulations for inorganic arsenic levels in rice cereal for infants, and the allowable level is “notably” 10 times more than the amounts permitted in bottled water, the letter stated. Citing the congressional report, the letter noted that in the absence of regulation, baby food manufacturers have set their own standards for heavy metal levels and at times have even sold food that failed to meet their internal requirements. The effects of these practices pose “serious risks” for the health of our nation’s infants and young children, the letter stated.
“It is critical that our government take immediate action to protect our children from these negative health consequences,” the New York Attorney General wrote, stating she was “deeply concerned” by the report and the government’s “dangerous” lack of regulation in the baby food industry.
At least three proposed class actions have been filed against the makers of popular baby food products after a congressional report released Thursday found high levels of heavy metals in products made by seven of the country’s largest baby food manufacturers.
According to the lawsuits, defendants Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Gerber Products Company, and Plum, PBC have deceived parents and caregivers by marketing their products as safe and healthy for infants and young children while failing to disclose that the foods contain “significant levels of toxic heavy metals,” including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have declared the four heavy metals to be “dangerous to human health,” particularly to babies and children, “who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects,” the lawsuit against Beech-Nut states. As explained in the case against Gerber, exposure to heavy metals can have debilitating effects on a child’s brain development and long-term function.
The lawsuits allege the defendants knew or should have known that the levels of heavy metals in their baby foods were “multiples higher” than the amounts allowed under existing regulations for other products yet failed to warn consumers who, relying on the companies’ reputations and representations, assumed the products were safe for their babies. The cases claim that as consumers reasonably relied on the defendants’ “misleading, deceptive, unfair, and false” marketing, the companies were allowed to “reap enormous profits” from selling what one lawsuit describes as “contaminated baby food.”
According to the suits, consumers would not have purchased the defendants’ products had they been aware of the presence of heavy metals in the food.
Which Baby Food Products Are Included in the Lawsuits?
The lawsuit against Beech-Nut includes the following products:
Gerber Toddler Spiral Pasta in Turkey Meat Sauce Meal
Gerber Sitter 2nd Foods Turkey Rice Dinner Plastic Tub
The lawsuit against Plum includes the following products, though the plaintiff reserves the right to add additional items if it’s discovered that they contain heavy metals:
Just Sweet Potato Organic Baby Food
Just Peaches Organic Baby Food
Just Prunes Organic Baby Food
Apple & Carrot Organic Baby Food
Pumpkin, Banana, Papaya, and Cardamom Organic Baby Food
Apple, Raisin, & Quinoa Organic Baby Food
Little Teethers Organic Multigrain Teething Wafers- Banana with Pumpkin
Mighty Morning Bar- Blueberry Lemon
The Report that Led to the Lawsuits
All three proposed class actions were filed the day after the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released a report detailing the results of an investigation into heavy metal levels in some of the most popular baby food products.
The investigation was spurred by the release of an October 2019 report by Healthy Babies Bright Futures titled “What’s in my baby’s food?” in which the non-profit claimed that 95 percent of 168 tested baby foods contained “toxic chemicals,” including arsenic and lead.
Following the report’s release, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy in November 2019 requested internal documents and test results from seven of the largest baby food manufacturers. Per the congressional report, arsenic, lead and cadmium were present in baby foods made by all four of the companies who responded to the committee’s request, including Nurture, Inc., which sells Happy Family Organics; Hain Celestial Group, which sells baby food products under the brand name Earth’s Best Organic; Beech-Nut; and Gerber. Mercury was present in baby food made by Nurture, which was the only one of the four responding companies who regularly tests for the metal, the subcommittee added.
According to the report, not only do the companies’ internal standards permit “dangerously high levels” of toxic heavy metals, but documents revealed that baby food products were still sold even when they exceeded those levels. Moreover, it was discovered that all the responding companies except Nurture only test heavy metal levels in the baby foods’ ingredients, not in the final products sold to consumers, the report stated.
The subcommittee further noted that Campbell Soup Company, which sells baby food under the brand name Plum Organics); Walmart, Inc., which sells baby food through its private label Parent’s Choice; and Sprout Foods, Inc. “refused to cooperate” with the investigation. According to the case against Plum, the company only provided a spreadsheet in which it “self-declared” that each of its products “Meets Criteria” for the heavy metals, though it failed to specify what the criteria were.
The subcommittee stated it was “greatly concerned” that these three companies’ apparent failure to cooperate indicates that there might be “even higher levels of toxic heavy metals” in their baby food than in their competitors’ products.
The Defendants’ Allegedly Deceptive Representations
According to the lawsuits, Beech-Nut, Gerber and Plum won consumers’ trust through false representations while failing to disclose that their products contained potentially harmful levels of toxic chemicals.
Beech-Nut, one suit says, represents that its products are “natural” and appropriate for specific age groups within the listed “Stage.” Moreover, the case claims, Beech-Nut labels state the products are “Real Food for Babies” while “misleadingly omitt[ing]” the presence of heavy metals and perchlorate, “a potentially dangerous contaminant that poses health risks to babies and children.”
The lawsuit against Gerber alleges that the company claims to be “the world’s most trusted name in baby food” while showing “reckless indifference” to consumers’ right to know about the potential presence of harmful heavy metals in the manufacturer’s baby food.
According to the case against Plum, the company’s advertised mission is to “nourish little ones with the very best food from the very first bite.” Plum allegedly claims to use “the best ingredients” and include “only” the healthy fruits, vegetables and grains pictured on the foods’ front labels. Despite these representations, Plum “knew or should have known” that its baby foods contained undisclosed levels of heavy metals, the lawsuit charges, and has “intentionally omitted” the presence of these toxins in order to mislead consumers into purchasing its products.
Who Do the Lawsuits Look to Cover?
The case against Beech-Nut looks to cover anyone in the U.S. who purchased the Beech-Nut products mentioned above for household or business use (and not for resale) anytime since October 1, 2015. The case also proposes subclasses of Illinois, Iowa, California, New Jersey, Minnesota, Florida and New York residents who purchased the products within the same time frame.
The case against Gerber looks to represent anyone in the U.S. who purchased and consumed the Gerber products named above within the applicable statute of limitations period, with proposed subclasses of Connecticut, Arizona, Colorado and Texas residents.
The lawsuit against Plum looks to cover anyone who purchased the Plum products named above for household or business use (and not for resale) anytime since February 5, 2015.
Will More Lawsuits Be Filed?
Though we can’t say for sure, it’s possible that more lawsuits will be filed against the companies who were the subject of the congressional subcommittee’s report.
If you’re interested in taking legal action, you may want to consider reaching out to an attorney in your area for a free initial consultation. An attorney should be able to help explain your legal rights and options, including whether filing another class action is possible.
How Do I Join the Existing Lawsuits?
As with most class actions, there’s nothing you need to do to join one or more of the lawsuits covered in this post. If the cases move forward and settle, that’s when “class members,” i.e., the people who fall into the categories mentioned above, would be notified of the settlement and given a chance to claim whatever compensation the court deems appropriate.
Check out our Learn page to find out more about the process, including how class members are notified.
While it often takes months or years for cases to reach resolution, you can check this page to keep up with the lawsuits’ progress, or sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter to have class action news and updates sent straight to your inbox.