Campbell Soup Co. is up against a consumer lawsuit filed in the US last week over claims its Plum Organics baby-food products contain elevated levels of toxic metals.
The lawsuit, brought by Erin Smid in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, according to Bloomberg, follows a report on 4 February from the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
Bloomberg cited Smid as saying in the lawsuit document: “Campbell touts its Plum Organics brand as especially healthful for young children but doesn’t disclose the presence of heavy metals in its product line, making its marketing deceptive.”
The subcommittee said it has requested test results dating back to 2019 from “seven of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States, including both makers of organic and conventional products”.
They were named as Campbell’s Plum Organics, Hain Celestial’s Earth’s Best Organic brand and Nestle’s Gerber baby-food line. And also Nurture’s HappyBaby brand, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Walmart’s Parent’s Choice brand and a Sprout Foods product.
The report noted: “Inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are toxic heavy metals. The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have declared them dangerous to human health, particularly to babies and children, who are most vulnerable to their neurotoxic effects. Even low levels of exposure can cause serious and often irreversible damage to brain development.”
It continued: “According to internal company documents and test results obtained by the subcommittee, commercial baby foods are tainted with significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity, and increased risk of future criminal and anti-social behaviour in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.”
While four of the cited companies/brands have responded to the subcommittee’s requests – Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Gerber – the others “refused to cooperate with the subcommittee’s investigation”, it claims.
“The subcommittee is greatly concerned that their lack of cooperation might be obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby-food products than their competitors’ products,” the report read.
However, Campbell said it had responded to the subcommittee on 4 February and noted the following comments in a statement. “For more than 150 years, Campbell has placed the safety of consumers, especially our youngest consumers, above all else.
"That is why we cooperated with the Committee on Oversight and Reform's baby-food review. We responded quickly to their questions and never refused anything requested of us. We are surprised that the Committee would suggest that Campbell was less than full partners in this mission. We welcomed the opportunity to work with the Committee in 2019 - and continue to do so today.
"Campbell is committed to minimising environmental contaminants including heavy metals within our products, and we will work with anyone to help establish federal standards to ensure that babies get the food they need to support healthy growth in their early years."
Meanwhile, a Campbell spokesperson offered this response: "Campbell is confident in the safety and quality of our products. The company does not comment on pending litigation, but we do intend to defend this case vigorously."