WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today filed a lawsuit against Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, one of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States, for misleading parent-consumers about the health and safety of its products.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that Beech-Nut’s deceptive and misleading advertising violated the District’s consumer protection laws and misled parents that its baby food underwent the most stringent testing and was fully safe for babies when, in fact, the food contained high levels of toxic heavy metals. OAG’s lawsuit seeks to compel Beech-Nut to stop misrepresenting its products and pay civil penalties. This lawsuit follows a congressional investigation into the baby food industry’s safety practices.
“Parents across the District and the country trusted Beech-Nut when it advertised its baby food products as organic and safe. But the reality is much different, as parents unknowingly fed their babies food containing high levels of toxic metals which can lead to lifelong health complications,” said AG Racine. “No company should profit by illegally deceiving parents about products that actually jeopardize the health and safety of their children. We are seeking to put a stop to it and put other baby food companies on notice that they must provide truthful and complete information about their products. Additionally, federal regulators and Congress need to take action to help ensure baby food is safe.”
Beech-Nut is the second largest brand of packaged baby food in the United States. The company markets its baby food as safe, “natural,” and high-quality, and asserts that it is “aware of no higher standards in the industry than the ones we employ.” Beech-Nut also falsely represents that its baby food does not contain harmful ingredients, assuring parents on its website that its baby foods “are free from artificial preservatives, colors and flavor,” and that it “conduct[s] over 20 rigorous tests on our purees, testing for up to 255 pesticides and heavy metals (like lead, cadmium, arsenic and other nasty stuff).”
Toxic heavy metals—including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury—are neurotoxins that are harmful to a baby’s developing brain and nervous system. According to medical authorities, early exposure to toxic heavy metals can have irreversible long-term effects, including harm to brain function.
Multiple studies in recent years have found high levels of toxic heavy metals in Beech-Nut’s baby foods. On February 4, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a detailed report finding that major baby food brands, including Beech-Nut, contained harmful levels of toxic heavy metals, and knowingly sold these harmful baby food products.
OAG alleges that Beech-Nut has violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act and harmed District consumers by:
- Misleading parents about the safety of its baby food: Beech-Nut markets its baby food as safe and healthy, but testing revealed that many of its products contain dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. The company knew of the presence of high levels of toxic heavy metals in its baby food for years but continued to tell parents its products were safe for their babies.
- Misrepresenting its testing practices: In its advertising, Beech-Nut claims it rigorously tests its baby food to make sure it is safe and free of toxic substances. In reality, the company only tests the ingredients that go into its products and does not test finished products. This fails to capture the true levels of heavy metals in the baby food, because manufacturing processes can significantly increase levels of heavy metals. Beech-Nut also fails to test for toxic mercury entirely, despite published reports indicating that its baby food contained significant levels of mercury.
- Falsely claiming to have high internal safety standards: Beech-Nut claims to have very high internal safety standards, but in reality, it has among the most lax internal standards in the industry for allowable levels of arsenic, lead, and cadmium in its baby food ingredients. For example, because lead exposure is so harmful to the developing brains of babies and children, health experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, argue that lead in food and drinks for babies should not exceed 1 part per billion (ppb), and the Environmental Protection Agency requires water systems to take action to reduce lead content in drinking water if it tests at over 15 ppb. Beech-Nut set an internal limit of 5,000 ppb for lead in certain ingredients, far exceeding any health guidance in existence, and it sold products containing ingredients that tested as high as 886.9 ppb lead. Additionally, Beech-Nut knowingly sold products that exceeded even its own lax standards.
OAG’s legal complaint against Beech-Nut is available here.
OAG is seeking a court order to force Beech-Nut to stop making false claims about the safety of its foods and to disclose the levels of toxic heavy metals in its products. The lawsuit also seeks restitution for parent-consumers, and civil penalties for violating the District’s consumer protection laws.
How to Report Unfair Business Practices
To report scams, fraud, or unfair business practices, contact OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection by:
- Texting “COMPLAINT” to (202) 738-5212
- Messaging OAG using the chat feature at: oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection
- Submitting a complaint online at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint
- Calling (202) 442-9828
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org