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Lawsuit Planned Over Tainted Milk

Nov 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Chinese families are filing a class action lawsuit against one dairy in the hopes that the government there will initiate compensation payments to the tens of thousands of families affected by China’s widespread and ongoing melamine tainting scandal.

The class action case involving some “15 lawyers” and “nearly 100 families,” the AP says, is targeted against the “state-owned Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group” Company and is looking to point out the delays and cover-ups in what many feel is the largest such scandal in China’s history of product and food safety debacles.

The melamine scandal was brought to the attention of the government earlier this year; however, officials in China opted to delay handling the situation and responding to it over fears that the scandal would overshadow the Olympics being planned there.  The story broke after hundreds, then thousands of children fell ill with similar symptoms pointing to kidney problems that are, at best, unusual in young children and infants.  As thousands of children fell ill, hospitals were overrun with sick children, and news of the deaths of babies broke, the crises had reached monumental proportions.  It took months until news officially was released—in September—well after the Olympic games ended in August.

At its height, 54,000 children were sickened and four infants had died.  Then, melamine tainted foods began showing up in international communities, prompting global recalls and renewed fears over the safety of foods and products originating from China.  The widespread milk formula contamination forced investigations into other foods that have confirmed the presences of melamine in eggs—likely as a result of tainted feed—and fish feed, to name a couple.

Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the production of plastics, pesticides and fertilizers, and fire retardants.  A nitrogen-rich chemical, melamine is used in food production to raise low protein levels in order to fool protein testing.  Melamine can cause a variety of kidney problems including kidney stones and kidney failure.  And, this is not the first time melamine tainting has been attributed to China.  Last year, melamine-tainted pet food sickened thousands and killed hundreds of pets in North America, prompting pet food recalls and adding to a trade situation in which Americans were concerned about tainted foods, toothpaste, medications, and toys.

According to the AP, the lawyers decided to pursue a class-action suit over filing individual suits and are looking for payment of “medical and other expenses” as well as “payments for trauma and compensation for the families of those who died.”  The class action suit is believed to assist in forcing the government and those responsible to settle with those affected, said the AP.

In reponse to the ongoing and global scandal, the AP reports that the United States has taken measures to ensure melamine-tainted food does not make its ways on to American shelves.  Yesterday, according to the AP piece, Food & Drug Administration officials reported that a wide array of foods made with milk were being “held at ports until tests show they are free of” melamine.


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