Toxic Baby Food Lawsuit: Heavy Metals Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Investigating Autism Caused by Heavy Metals in Baby Food 

Wallace Miller is pursuing emerging litigation alleging that baby food products from a number of major brands contained heavy metals that led to neurodevelopmental disorders in babies and children. 

According to the lawsuit, high levels of heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury were present in baby food products made by a number of baby food manufacturers, including Gerber, Walmart, and Beech-Nut. A growing scientific consensus holds that these heavy metals cause autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and other neurological conditions in children. 

As parents, we should be able to trust that the food we are giving to our babies is safe. When these manufacturers distribute dangerous products, or fail to warn consumers about their risk, they are putting their profits before the health of the children and families that rely on them. 

Has your family been impacted by toxic heavy metals in baby food? If you suspect that your child’s autism spectrum disorder may have been caused by baby food containing these heavy metals, reach out to Wallace Miller at 312-697-1906. Our experienced legal team will discuss your case and help you determine the best path forward. 

Image by Pixabay.

Table Of Contents

    Litigation timeline 

    July 15, 2024 Plaintiffs filed the Master Complaint against defendants. This document lists key factual allegations that help form the basis for this litigation. Defendants will have the opportunity to respond, and the court will then rule on those responses. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on gathering evidence to strengthen your cases.

    June 6, 2024 Wallace Miller partner Timothy Jackson discusses the newly established toxic baby food MDL and the risks posed by dangerous baby food products with Jon Hansen on WGN radio. Listen to the full interview here. 

    June 1, 2024We are excited to announce that Wallace Miller partner Timothy E. Jackson has been appointed to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the toxic baby food MDL.

    The attorneys chosen for this leadership committee play a crucial role in all aspects of the litigation. Throughout the process, they will work on behalf of all plaintiffs to litigate their cases. A leadership appointment is a strong endorsement of an attorney’s experience, skill, and dedication, and we are proud to continue to take the lead in the toxic baby food lawsuit.

    May 16, 2024 — Maryland Governor Wes More has signed legislation requiring baby food manufacturers in the state to test their products for heavy metals, including arsenic and lead. Known as Rudy’s Law, the new bill is named after 18-month-old Rudy Callahan, who suffered from lead poisoning after eating applesauce pouches that contained more than 2,000 times than the amount set by proposed safety standards. Inspired by reporting by the Spotlight on America team, the law will eventually require companies to inform customers of their products’ heavy metal content via a QR code. 

    The bill was drafted by State Delegate Deni Taveras and her Chief of Staff, Jason Nuñez, who also called for increased federal regulation. It follows a baby food safety bill passed by California in January, with potential legislation on the table in New York and Pennsylvania. 

    This new legislation underscores how important this lawsuit is in helping drive positive change and making these products safer for future generations. Not only does this litigation have the potential to help those who have been harmed by toxic baby food—it can also affect positive change in the law. 

    April 15, 2024 — The toxic baby food multidistrict litigation has been consolidated in the Northern District of California. Multidistrict litigations, or MDLs, provide an efficient way to investigate multiple cases against the same defendants. A status conference to determine the logistics of the case going forward is scheduled for May 16. 

    January 2024 — Plaintiffs move to consolidate their toxic baby food cases against defendants including Gerber and Beech-Nut in a multidistrict litigation (MDL). 

    March 2021 — In the wake of the congressional report, the first toxic heavy metals lawsuit is brought against the baby food companies. 

    February 2021 — A report published by the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy finds dangerously high levels of heavy metals in baby food produced by several major manufacturers. 

    October 2019 — The nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures publishes an investigation identifying heavy metals in 95 percent of baby foods tested. 

    Can heavy metals in baby food harm my baby? 

    Even low levels of toxic heavy metals have been proven to be harmful to human health, especially for babies and young children. Because they consume a higher proportion of food by body weight and lack many of the ways to metabolize dangerous chemicals that adults have, babies are at a higher risk from the same exposure. 

    Exposure to environmental chemicals such as lead and arsenic has been repeatedly correlated with neurological damage, developmental disorders, and IQ loss, and this brain damage is often permanent and untreatable. 

    Regulations have been passed against environmental contaminants including lead paint, pollution, and other sources of heavy metals. However, heavy metals in baby food products are not currently regulated. 

    The impact of heavy metals in baby food 

    Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to a range of neurodevelopmental problems. In particular, a number of studies have connected toxic metals to autism spectrum disorder. 

    Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a difference in the brain that some individuals are born with. Sometimes characterized as a developmental and neurological disorder, symptoms generally appear within the first two years of life but may also be diagnosed later.  

    As a “spectrum” condition, ASD has a wide variety of symptoms and expressions. Generally, however, ASD is characterized by: 

    • Difficulty with communication and social interaction 
    • Repetitive and/or restricted behaviors and interests 
    • Other behavioral characteristics that may impact one’s ability to study, work, and live, including different ways of learning and difficulties with mood or mental health. 

    Autism spectrum disorder often poses challenges to those who live with it. However, many people with ASD live fulfilling, happy lives. ASD may contribute to the ability to learn and remember complex information or excel in a particular field.  

    Autism may be caused by genetic factors or linked to factors in the environment, including exposure to toxic metals or chemicals. While it does not have a “cure,” many people with autism find it helpful to find support through therapy, identity groups, and medication for distressing physical or behavioral symptoms. 

    What does the science say? 

    For decades, scientific studies have linked exposure to heavy metals to neurological damage and developmental disorders including ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Now, several investigations have uncovered high levels of heavy metals in baby food across the market. 

    2021 congressional report on levels of heavy metals and baby food companies 

    In early 2021, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy published an investigation into seven baby food manufacturers examining the levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in their products. 

    The committee requested tests and internal documents from the following companies, now named as defendants in the baby food lawsuit: 

    • Beech-Nut Nutrition 
    • Campbell (manufacturers of Plum Organics) 
    • Walmart (manufacturers of Parent’s Choice FOOD Products) 
    • Hain Celestial (manufacturers of Earth’s Best Organic Food Products) 
    • Sprout Foods 
    • Gerber Products 
    • Nurture, Inc (manufacturers of HappyFAMILY, HappyBABY) 

    Four companies—Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain Celestial, and Gerber—responded with test results that demonstrated dangerous levels of heavy metals, well above those set out by the FDA. As a general rule, these companies either test the ingredients or rely on their suppliers to test the ingredients, rather than testing the finished products. As a result, consumers and regulators have raised concerns that the heavy metal contamination in baby food may be higher than indicated. 

    Potentially even more alarming, three of the companies—Walmart, Campbell, and Sprout—refused to cooperate with the investigation. Independent testing indicated troubling levels of heavy metals in the non-respondents’ baby food as well. 

    In addition, the report highlighted a secret presentation by Hain Celestial to the FDA in August of 2019. In the presentation, Hain asserted that finished baby foods show higher levels of arsenic than the individual ingredients tested. The FDA under the Trump administration did nothing in response and instead brushed the report under the rug. 

    To this day, no warnings are required for store-bought baby food packaging and there is only one official limit for heavy metal content in baby food: inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal cannot exceed 100 parts per billion (an amount far higher than that recommended by scientific studies). It is left up to the manufacturers to test the ingredients—or not test at all. 

    2019 report by Healthy Babies Bright Futures on heavy metal content 

    In 2019, a report from the nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures tested a range of baby foods across the country for a variety of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Healthy Babies Bright Futures is a nonprofit organization that focuses on monitoring toxic chemicals in products designed for babies and working with city governments to enact policy change. The study found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain some level of heavy metals.  

    The report looked at 61 baby food brands, from industry giants to boutique producers. The FDA only regulates a small minority of baby food products, including fruit juices and infant rice cereals, leaving the vast majority of products unregulated. The Healthy Babies Bright Futures investigation also examined more than 23 peer-reviewed studies published in the last decade that demonstrated the evidence of behavioral impacts, IQ loss, and attention deficits in children exposed to heavy metals. 

    Recent scientific studies examining the link between ASD and levels of heavy metals 

    A June 2016 study conducted by epidemiologists, autism experts, and medical organizations examined mercury, lead, and arsenic levels and their correlation with the prevalence of ASD. The study found that areas with higher lead concentrations had “significantly higher ASD prevalence” than those with lower lead concentration, and that mercury and arsenic levels contributed to the prevalence of ASD. A number of other studies across the world, from Egypt to Romania, demonstrate lead, mercury, and other heavy metals as a primary cause of autism. 

    Image by Pixabay.

    What are the heavy metals found in baby food? 

    The most commonly identified heavy metals in baby food are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. All four of these chemicals are known to be severe neurotoxins, with evidence that exposure at a young age may lead to ASD and other neurological difficulties established by several scientific studies. 

    Exposure to heavy metals can harm the developing brain and cause a number of serious neurological issues, including: 

    • A permanent decrease in IQ 
    • Hindered neurological development in infants 
    • Hindered long-term brain function 


    Lead is ranked second on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) list of substances that pose a potential risk to human health. It has been shown to be hazardous even in small amounts and has been associated with severe neurodevelopmental effects.  

    While the risk level depends on the exposure, babies and children are more susceptible than adults to heavy metals. The impacts of lead exposure range from behavioral problems and cognitive performance issues to delayed puberty and reduced academic achievement. Studies have shown a connection between lead exposure and reduced standardized test performance, as well as a higher risk of failing classes. These effects have been shown to be permanent, with long-lasting damage enduring into adulthood. 

    There is no official government standard for lead in baby food, but as a point of comparison, the FDA sets the limit for lead in bottled water at 5 parts per billion. Lead was found in baby food from all responding companies in amounts as high as 641 ppb (Nurture), 886 ppb (Beech-Nut), 352 ppb (Hain) and 448 ppb (Gerber). 


    Ranked third on the ATSDR’s list of chemicals that pose potential health risks, mercury has been linked to adverse neurodevelopmental affects and lower IQ. Exposure to mercury as a young child has been associated with autistic behaviors and the EPA has set the limit for the metal in drinking water at 2 parts per billion. 

    Only one of the responding manufacturers, Nurture, tested for mercury. Internal documents show that their baby food products contain mercury levels of up to 10 ppb, five times higher than the maximum set by the EPA for drinking water. 


    Arsenic is ranked number one in substances that pose a significant risk to human health by the ATSDR. There is no established safe level of arsenic consumption for babies, although Consumer Reports advises setting levels at 3 ppb, while the FDA sets the maximum levels for arsenic in bottled water at 10 ppb. 

    Arsenic exposure has been linked to neurological damage, decreases in IQ, problems with working memory, and difficulties with verbal comprehension. Increased arsenic levels have been correlated to a decrease in motor function, especially for boys. 

    Baby food from all responding companies was found to contain more than 10 ppb arsenic. Nurture, Hain, and Gerber all sold products with arsenic levels at over 90 ppb, which Beech-Nut used additives that contained more than 300 ppb of arsenic. 


    Cadmium is ranked seventh on the ATSDR environmental hazards list. It has been associated with decreases in IQ, especially in boys, and can remain in the body for decades.  

    Baby foods made by all responding companies were found to contain cadmium. All levels exceeded the FDA-mandated level of cadmium in bottled water of 5 ppb, with Beech-Nut and Hain reporting more than four times that amount. 

    Why are there heavy metals in baby food? 

    Heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury end up in baby food from a variety of sources. One of the most significant is the high naturally occurring levels of heavy metals in rice—brown rice used in baby foods, for example, often contain inorganic arsenic. Rice-based baby foods made with tainted rice are near the top of almost every list of potentially toxic baby foods. Baby food made with sweet potatoes also tends to contain higher levels of heavy metals. 

    In addition to naturally occurring metals, some manufacturers add ingredients into their mixes that may contain additional heavy metals. Vitamin or mineral additives often contain high levels of lead, mercury, arsenic, or cadmium, and when combined with other ingredients, the final product poses an even higher risk. 

    What can I do about toxic baby food? 

    Parents, legal professionals, and industry experts are agitating for the FDA to institute mandatory testing and labeling of heavy metals, as well as new standards for what is permitted based on up-to-date scientific studies. Parents can stay vigilant for foods that test high in heavy metals across the board—research has shown that these toxins are present in both conventional and organic baby food. 

    Ultimately, however, we need to hold major baby food manufacturers responsible for their choices to prioritize profits over children’s health. Wallace Miller is fighting to make sure that those harmed by toxic baby food receive compensation for what they have suffered and that companies like Beech-Nut, Nurture, and Gerber don’t continue to sell dangerous products. 

    Is my child eligible for a toxic baby food lawsuit? 

    If your child consumed one of the brands under investigation—Beech-Nut, Campbell, Walmart, Hain, Sprout, Gerber, and Nurture—you may be eligible to participate in the toxic baby food litigation. In general, you should be able to demonstrate that you purchased one or more of these brands for at least six months and that your child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder before age 14. 

    If we are able to take on your case, we will ask for your consent to access your child’s medical records and have you fill out a questionnaire. We will also collect more information about how you used the product to build the strongest possible case. 

    Left to right: Nicholas P. Kelly, Edward A. Wallace, Molly Condon Wells, Mark R. Miller, Jessica Wieczorkiewicz, Timothy E. Jackson.

    Talk to an attorney at Wallace Miller 

    Parents and families bought baby food on the assumption that they could trust the manufacturers to make sure it was safe. Instead, the manufacturers put profits over people and continued to include heavy metals long after the scientific consensus indicated their connection to autism spectrum disorder. 

    Wallace Miller is committed to fighting for the rights of consumers against corporate interests. If your child has been harmed by heavy metals in baby food, call our office at 312-697-1906 to discuss your case with our team of legal professionals. 


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