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Parents Say Heavy Metals in Baby Foods Caused Son’s Autism


Consumer attorneys from the national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have filed a first of its kind lawsuit alleging several major baby food manufacturers knowingly sell products loaded with dangerously high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Research shows that exposure to these toxic metals can lead to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Consumer attorneys Pedram Esfandiary and R. Brent Wisner filed an amended complaint on behalf of plaintiffs Melissa and Lorenzo Cantabrana for their son Noah, on September 7, 2021, in Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles (Case No. 21STCV22822). This is the first personal injury lawsuit related to heavy metals in baby food in California and possibly in the nation.

The Cantabranas allege their seven-year-old son, Noah, was diagnosed with ASD and ADHD after he consumed high quantities of baby foods from the following defendants:

  • Nurture, Inc. (Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY) of New York
  • Beech-Nut Nutrition Company of New York
  • Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic) of New York
  • Gerber Products Company of Michigan
  • Plum PBC (Plum Organics) of California
  • Walmart, Inc. (Parent’s Choice) of Arkansas
  • Sprout Foods, Inc. of New Jersey

The complaint includes the following causes of action:

  • Strict Product Liability - Failure to Warn
  • Strict Product Liability - Design Defect
  • Strict Product Liability - Manufacturing Defect
  • Negligence - Failure to Warn
  • Negligent Product Design
  • Negligent Manufacturing
  • Negligent Misrepresentation
  • Strict Liability

These baby food manufacturers’ malicious recklessness and callous disregard for human life has wreaked havoc on the health of countless vulnerable children, all in the name of maximizing profits while deliberately misleading parents regarding the safety of their baby foods, the complaint alleges. The Cantabranas say they never would have purchased baby foods from the defendants if the companies had disclosed the known dangers associated with their products.

The Cantabrana’s baby food lawsuit seeks to hold the defendants accountable for their alleged reprehensible conduct and ensure they are punished for causing Noah’s debilitating condition. Accordingly, the Cantabranas also seek punitive damages to ensure that future generations are protected from the poisonous products that the defendants pander as food.

About Noah Cantabrana

Noah was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder ASD when he was two years and nine months old. And he shows signs of ADHD. .He is now seven years old.

As a baby and toddler, Noah consumed high amounts of baby foods manufactured by all of the defendants listed above.

Noah’s diagnoses make life incredibly challenging for him and his family. He has outbursts and meltdowns that can last for hours, has social interaction and communication issues, and often has trouble sleeping through the night. Melissa Cantabrana says Noah is “all over the place” most days, and she constantly worries about his wellbeing not just now but in the future.

“My son is facing lifelong challenges because he ate foods that we believed were safe,” says Melissa. “If the labels said anything about heavy metals, I never would have fed them to Noah. Parents have a right to know what is in the foods we put on the dinner table for our kids. These companies deprived us of that right. It’s shameful and they need to be held accountable.”

Attorneys Who Took Down Monsanto Now Leading Baby Food Litigation

Attorneys Pedram Esfandiary and R. Brent Wisner were integral to the Monsanto Roundup litigation, wherein plaintiffs alleged exposure to Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate, causes cancer. Both worked on the trial teams in three cases against Monsanto (now part of Bayer) that culminated in jury verdicts worth $2.424 billion. Wisner, who served as co-lead trial counsel in two of the cases, also helped negotiate settlements last year that resolved many thousands of cases for nearly $11 billion.

After their success in the Roundup litigation, the attorneys have now focused on the issue of heavy metals in baby food. Together, they represent the Cantabranas and hundreds of other parents nationwide, alleging exposure to heavy metals in certain baby foods caused children to develop ASD and ADHD.

“It is clear to us that the baby food industry does not care about the health of young children,” says attorney R. Brent Wisner. “By continuing to sell their poisonous foods to unsuspecting parents, these companies are willing to put the most vulnerable segment of our population at risk for severe neurodevelopmental disorders.”

“The industry could make this heavy metals problem go away with relative ease if they sourced better ingredients and adequately screened their products before they reached store shelves,” adds attorney Pedram Esfandiary. “The reality is these companies will not change their behavior without decisive government and legal action. We can’t just sit around and wait around for that to happen, so this litigation will have to be the tip of the spear when it comes to protecting children’s health”

Lawsuits Stem from Shocking Government Report on Baby Foods Tainted with Heavy Metals

In February of 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, Committee on Oversight and Reform published a report entitled “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury.”

The report found that Nurture, which sells Happy Family Organics (including HappyBABY products), Beech-Nut, Hain Celestial Group, which sells baby food products under the brand name Earth’s Best Organic, and Gerber“knowingly sell these products to unsuspecting parents, in spite of internal company standards and test results, and without any warning labeling whatsoever.”

The key findings from the February report include:

Several major manufacturers knowingly sell baby foods containing as much as 180 parts per billion (ppb) inorganic arsenic, 6441 ppb lead, and 10 ppb mercury. They also manufacture their products using ingredients containing as much as 913.4 ppb arsenic, 886.9 ppb lead, and 344.55 ppb cadmium. The staggering amounts of toxic metals in baby foods from the companies named in the report far eclipse domestic and international regulatory standards:

  • The FDA allows a maximum level of 5 parts per billion (ppb) lead in bottled water.
    The government report found 177 times more than the acceptable level of lead in baby foods.
  • The FDA allows a maximum level of 10 ppb arsenic in bottled water.
    The government report found 91 times more than the acceptable level of arsenic in baby foods.
  • The FDA allows a maximum level of 5 ppb cadmium in bottled water.
    The government report found 69 times more than the acceptable level of cadmium in baby foods.
  • The EPA allows a maximum of 2 ppb mercury in drinking water.
    The government report found 5 times more than the acceptable level of mercury in baby foods.

Months after the February report came out, Beech-Nut issued a recall on infant rice cereal and decided to leave the infant rice cereal market. The company said testing of its rice cereal revealed arsenic at levels that exceeded maximum allowable levels.

Plum Organics, Walmart, and Sprout Foods failed to cooperate with the investigation that preceded the Subcommittee’s report. This caused concern about whether they were concealing higher levels of heavy metals in their products compared to their competitors’ products.

The three companies began cooperating with the Subcommittee, which led to a second government report issued in September of 2021. The second report noted the following:

  • Plum’s test results for its baby food products confirmed the Subcommittee’s concerns about high levels of toxic metals.
  • Walmart provided documents that revealed a “concerning lack of attention to toxic heavy metal levels in baby food and an abandonment of its previously more protective standards.”
  • Sprout provided only a handful of documents, which showed a lax approach to testing for toxic heavy metals in its baby foods.

Shortly after the second report, Walmart issued a baby food recall on Parent’s Choice Infant Rice Cereal, citing high levels of arsenic found during testing.

Research Links Heavy Metals Exposure to Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Children

Attorneys for the Cantabrana family say young children who consume toxic metals in the amounts found in baby food products are at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, in large part because their young brains are still developing.

Babies and toddlers have higher exposure to metals compared to adults because they consume more food in relation to their body weight and absorb metals more readily than adults by 40% to 90%. Furthermore, the mechanisms babies and toddlers need to metabolize and eliminate heavy metals are comparatively undeveloped as they have weaker detoxifying mechanisms and poorer immune systems than adults.

Even at low levels, studies have concluded that exposure to heavy metals can cause serious and irreversible damage to neurological development, including autism and ADHD. In one major study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers studied twins to control for genetic influences so they could focus on possible environmental contributors to autism spectrum disorder. Their findings suggest that differences in early-life exposure to heavy metals like lead, may affect the risk of autism.

Government agencies and medical professional organizations agree that heavy metals exposure is dangerous for young children:

Toxic heavy metals pose a “major public health concern” for children.

--World Health Organization

Heavy metals “may build up in biological systems and become a significant health hazard.” Noticeable consequences of exposure could be delayed for years.

--Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Arsenic is number one among environmental substances that pose the most significant potential threat to human health, followed by lead (second), mercury (third), and cadmium (seventh).

--Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

No level of exposure to these heavy metals has been shown to be safe in children.

--American Academy of Pediatrics

About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman

The national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represents the Cantabrana family in this case. While several class action lawsuits have been filed in response to the revelation that baby foods contain dangerous levels of toxic metals, the Cantabrana suit represents the first personal injury case filed. Attorneys Pedram Esfandiary and R. Brent Wisner plan to get the case to trial in 2022. Baum Hedlund is not involved in any baby formula litigation.

Baum Hedlund is one of the country’s leading law firms representing parents in cases against several major baby food manufacturers. As of December 2021, the firm represents nearly 800 parents in baby food claims, with that number increasing weekly. Across all areas of practice, the firm has won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements.


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