Class action seeks compensation for consumers
Baltimore-based McCormick & Company has been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit over alleged “heightened levels” of toxic heavy metals in a number of its herbs and spices.
According to the 23-page lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Jan. 18, in the United States District Court–Northern District of California, McCormick allegedly failed to test its products for heavy metals and knew that if its herbs and spices contained elevated levels of toxic heavy metals then consumers would not purchase the products. The lawsuit uses a Consumer Report as evidence to support its claim that certain McCormick products were allegedly tainted with toxic heavy metals.
The Consumer Report analyzed 126 products from a wide range of brands and found that 40 had “high enough levels of arsenic, lead, and cadmium combined, on average, to pose a health concern for children when regularly consumed in typical serving sizes.”
That’s about a one-third fraction of the tested products from national and private-label brands.
Consumer Reports contends that because companies can test for heavy metals and remove these metals from its herbs and spices, McCormick should have known how to limit the amount of heavy metals in its products. While a number of companies have adopted methods to limit heavy metals from making their way into spices and herbs–such as conducting tests that would disclose this information–McCormick “chose to ignore the health of the consuming public in pursuit of profit,” the complaint alleges.
At present, heightened amounts of arsenic, lead, and cadmium may get into the herbs and spices during the manufacturing process, including from processing equipment and packaging, the complaint alleges. McCormick’s culinary ground basil, ground ginger, ground oregano, paprika, ground turmeric were among the products that allegedly exposed consumers to heightened levels of toxic heavy metals, the suit claims.
There are potential health ramifications from exposure to lead, arsenic, and cadmium, particularly on children.
“Exposure puts children at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), type 2 diabetes, and cancer, among other health issues,” alleges the complaint. For adults, heavy metals are also harmful and can increase the risk of cancer, cognitive problems, and other harmful conditions, according to the complaint.
More than ever, consumers are purchasing herbs and spices, particularly those considered to have antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties. Most Americans don’t realize their herbs or spices they use for their flavoring or healing properties could contain heightened levels of lead, arsenic, and cadmium, says the complaint.
“Heightened levels of toxic heavy metals in food can cause cancer and often irreversible damage to brain development, as well as other serious health problems,” states the complaint.
The focus of the proposed litigation is to allow consumers compensation for the herbs and spices they purchased, which, the suit contends, may have been unsafe for consumption. The claims of the proposed class action litigation would be upward of $5 million.
Lori Amos Robinson, vice president of corporate communications, branding and social responsibility with McCormick & Company, said as part of McCormick’s safety effort the company exceeds all regulatory requirements.
“Herbs and spices are agricultural products that are grown in farming communities around the world. McCormick’s product integrity and safety programs are best-in-class in the industry. Our Taste you Trust° guarantee means we go above and beyond regulatory requirements to reduce exposure to a broad range of contaminants,” said Robinson.
“As a company that’s been trusted by millions of consumers for more than 130 years, the quality and safety of our products is our top concern. McCormick & Company’s unwavering commitment to our Taste you Trust principle is demonstrated by our unmatched track record in food safety and product integrity. McCormick’s safety standards start at the source of our ingredients and continue all the way through our supply chain, which is why buying from trusted brands is always recommended,” said Robinson.
“McCormick minimizes risk and ensures safety by leveraging our industry leading traceability capabilities, as well as sourcing from farmers and suppliers that adhere to strict safety protocols,” she added.
The plaintiffs listed in the litigation are Kelly Balistreri of Carmel, Calif. and Tony Michel of San Jose, Calif.
“Had plaintiffs and the class members known the truth–i.e., that defendant’s respective brands of herbs and spices contained elevated levels of toxic heavy metals, rendering them unsafe for consumption by children and adults–they would not have been willing to purchase them at all,” states the complaint.