Baby Food Contamination Lawsuits Consolidated in California Court

toxic baby food mdl

Families Allege Heavy Metals in Popular Brands Caused Autism and ADHD

In a move aimed at streamlining litigation, a panel of judges has consolidated numerous lawsuits against major baby food manufacturers in California. These lawsuits claim that popular baby food brands, including Gerber and Nurture, knowingly sold products contaminated with heavy metals that caused children to develop autism and ADHD.

Centralized proceedings for efficiency

The consolidation order, despite objections from the baby food companies, unites all federal lawsuits filed against these brands in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The judges reasoned that a centralized forum will address "common questions of fact" more efficiently, as all cases involve children allegedly exposed to heavy metals in baby food, leading to diagnoses of autism and ADHD.

“Plaintiffs in each action, who are minors, allege they were exposed to elevated quantities of toxic heavy metals (namely, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury) from consuming defendants’ baby food products and, as a result, suffered brain injury that manifested in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

Lawyers for the families had a previous consolidation attempt rejected in 2021, but in subsequent years the number of lawsuits filed against the baby food manufacturers, and investigations happening in tandem, have continued to grow, making a multidistrict litigation (MDL) the most expeditious way to go. 

Families allege knowledge and negligence

The families suing the baby food manufacturers argue that the companies were aware of the contamination but continued to sell the products. They point to years of research by public health, consumer and government experts, and other studies have established that many baby food varieties for children two and under contain elevated levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium.

As the research came to light, a U.S. Congressional report was issued in 2021 that showed the levels of contamination and how children were facing serious health risks by consuming the baby food. Stacks of lawsuits were filed by families after the release of the report, with families arguing their children developed ADHD and autism because of the baby food companies’ negligence. 

While there have been calls from a number of corners, including regulators and health experts, continued testing shows the problem remains pervasive

How do toxic metals get into baby food?

Heavy metals like arsenic and lead can enter the food chain through various means, including:

  • Industrial practices: Mining and farming activities can contaminate soil and water with heavy metals.

  • Natural occurrence: Some heavy metals are naturally present in the environment and can be absorbed by plants.

  • Food additives: Certain fortified vitamin mixes might contain trace amounts of heavy metals.

While contamination isn't limited to baby food, infants are particularly vulnerable as their developing brains are more susceptible to neurological damage caused by heavy metals. To combat the issue, the Food and Drug Administration released a plan in early 2023 to keep high levels of lead out of baby foods, as part of a wider effort to eliminate heavy metals. 

Next steps in the consolidated case

The consolidated case will likely involve "bellwether" trials, where a select few cases proceed first to gauge jury reaction to evidence and arguments. This approach aims to facilitate settlements, potentially avoiding the need for individual trials for every lawsuit. If settlements cannot be reached, the individual cases could return to their original courts for further proceedings.



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