Attorney General James Demands Baby Food Company to Stop False and Misleading Advertising
Testing by AG James’s Office Found Holle Baby Foods
Advertised as “Lead-free” Contain Lead and Other Heavy Metals
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a letter today demanding that the baby food company HolleUSA end its false or misleading claims about its products. Specifically, Attorney General James is calling for JSG Babyfood LLC and JSG Organics LLC — which does business as HolleUSA — to stop advertising their baby foods as being “lead free” and as having no detectable traces of heavy metals. Laboratory testing ordered by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) revealed that several HolleUSA brand baby food products available to New York residents contained detectable levels of lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
“New York parents should never have to second guess the safety of the products meant for their children,” said Attorney General James. “My office found that HolleUSA is misleading or lying to parents when it advertises its baby food as free from lead and having no detectable heavy metals. These false or misleading claims prey upon parents’ concerns about the continuing problem of toxic heavy metals in their children’s food, and they must end. We will continue to hold accountable any company that misrepresents its products to New York consumers.”
In November 2021, OAG ordered three varieties of Holle brand baby food pouches (“Carrot Cat” Fruit & Veggie Puree, “Zebra Beet” Fruit Puree & Veggie Juice,” and “Veggie Bunny” Veggie Puree) marketed to New York and U.S. consumers through HolleUSA’s website (Holleusa.com) and Amazon (Amazon.com). Eighteen pouches were tested for heavy metals, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury by an accredited and nationally-recognized lab. The testing detected one or more of the heavy metals in all 18 of the sampled pouches. Based on these findings, Attorney General James orders HolleUSA to promptly remove all false and misleading claims relating to its products being free of heavy metals from the company’s website and virtual store fronts on online retailers such as Amazon.
Engaging in repeated or persistent fraud or illegality, deceptive business practices, and false or misleading advertising violates New York Executive Law and General Business Law. Attorney General James’ letter notes that her office reserves the right to pursue any appropriate remedy to HolleUSA’s false or misleading advertising of its products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presently has not established any lead, arsenic or cadmium limits for virtually any category of baby food products (including pureed baby food), though FDA’s Closer to Zero plan proposes future changes. The levels at which OAG’s testing of the HolleUSA pouches detected lead, arsenic, and cadmium do not exceed standards in place in the European Union, where the brand is based.
Attorney General James is a national leader in advocating for the federal government to accelerate actions to remove heavy metals from infant and toddler foods. Within days of a February 2021 congressional report finding “dangerous levels” of toxic heavy metals in commercial baby foods, Attorney General James wrote to the Acting Director of the FDA urging swift action in setting standards for these metals in all baby foods, and requiring baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic metals. After FDA announced a plan that deferred setting any final limits on lead and other heavy metals for years without requiring any stopgap or interim actions, Attorney General James led a coalition of 23 state Attorneys General in an October 2021 petition urging FDA to take several specific interim actions to accelerate protections for young children. The multistate petition is currently pending before FDA. Attorney General James is also continuing her investigation into four of the largest U.S. baby food brands — Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic (Hain), and HappyBABY (Nurture) — for inorganic arsenic levels in their infant rice cereal products and their marketing of these products in New York.
"No one likes to be misled. Parents need to know that information about products — especially food — that companies provide is accurate, so they can make the best choices for their family," said Bobbi Wilding, executive director, Clean and Healthy New York, and director, National Getting Ready for Baby campaign. "False advertising and greenwashing - claiming things are safer or healthier than they are - hurts everyone. Thank you, Attorney General James, for taking action on this. We hope other companies will take notice and ensure that they tell parents the truth."
“Busy parents go online to find and buy their baby’s food,” said Tom Neltner, senior director, Safer Chemicals for Environmental Defense Fund. “They know lead can be harmful to their baby and will be drawn to ‘lead-free’ claims like those made by HolleUSA. We applaud Attorney General Letitia James and her team for testing products to evaluate company claims and then acting when it finds the claims were false or misleading.”
“Consumers have zero-tolerance for false and misleading claims on food products, especially if they deceive parents into believing certain baby food products are free of lead or toxic heavy metals,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy, Consumer Reports. “In our testing of baby food over the years, Consumer Reports has seen products with very low levels of lead, but no scientific lab could ever report a product to be completely free of lead given limits of detection. It is critical that consumers be given accurate information about the foods their families are eating. Therefore, we applaud the Attorney General James’ action to compel the removal of deceptive claims on food products.”
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Brian Lusignan and Max Shterngel, Chief Environmental Scientist Jodi Feld, and Environmental Scientist Joseph E. Haas, II of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. The matter is also being handled by Senior Advisor and Special Counsel M. Umair Khan of the Executive Division. Both the Division for Social Justice and the Executive Division are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.