SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge will allow consumers to proceed with a proposed class action against Walmart that claims its “Parent's Choice” brand of baby food contains high levels of toxic metals that could cause neurological damage in children.
Walmart was hit with a slew of lawsuits, four of them filed in Arkansas where the company is headquartered, after a House oversight committee released a report in February 2021 revealing that major manufacturers knowingly sold tainted baby foods to unsuspecting parents.
Four companies — Beech-Nut, Gerber, Nurture (Happy Baby) and Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) — responded to the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy’s request for internal documents and test results. All of the products contained lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic. Nuture’s Happy Baby products contained mercury, which the other companies do not even test for.
Three others refused to cooperate — Walmart, which sells Parent’s Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic products, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Co., maker of Plum Organics baby foods.
A study by Consumer Reports says early-age heavy metal exposure can increase the risk of lower IQ and behavioral problems, and links heavy metals to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
In her lawsuit filed in March 2021, Shipra Kochar of Dublin, California, said she purchased Parent’s Choice baby foods repeatedly from Walmart in 2020, believing that she was feeding her baby healthy, nutritious food based on the product’s packaging. Her case has since been consolidated with another lawsuit filed in the same district.
U.S. District Judge James Donato issued a one-page ruling Monday saying Kochar plausibly alleged that she suffered economic harm by paying a premium for baby food advertised as healthy when it is said to contain toxic metals.
Kochar’s lawsuit notes that although Walmart did not cooperate with the House committee’s investigation, an independent study conducted by the organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures found arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead in Parent’s Choice’s Little Hearts Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Snack and Parent’s Choice’s Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks, foods that were both created for infants as young as six to ninth months.
Kochar seeks both reimbursement for the money she spent and an injunction that would bar Walmart from continuing to market its baby food as safe.
Donato said Monday that Kochar and her co-plaintiff can demonstrate standing for injunctive relief “because they alleged that they would be willing to buy Walmart’s baby food again but would not be able to trust its marketing representations.”
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company contends Kochar has not shown that she or her family were harmed by the products, that they contained heavy metals in excess of U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits or guidance, or that such limits or guidance exist.
Kochar's attorneys argue Walmart cannot have it both ways. "Defendant cannot both claim that it is not liable because it is in compliance with government regulations in selling its toxic and dangerous baby foods and that there are no government regulations of toxic heavy metals in baby foods. Defendant has been knowingly selling toxic baby food to consumers for years and deserves to be held accountable for its egregious conduct," they wrote in a reply to Walmart's dismissal motion.
"Any parent will agree that they should know if they are feeding heavy metals to their children," Kochar's attorney Thiago Coelho said in an email Monday.
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