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Manufacturers to Pay $24 Million to Settle Tainted Pet Food Lawsuits

May 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

According to court papers just filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey on Thursday, several companies have agreed to pay a combined $24 million to pet owners to resolve a variety of lawsuits over contaminated pet food linked to the illness and death of animals.  The settlement involves Canada-based Menu Foods Income Fund and other pet food manufacturers and suppliers and is pending court approval.  This settlement is separate from the $8 million already paid to pet owners by some of the companies or their insurers.

Consumers in the U.S. and Canada filed over 100 lawsuits against multiple pet food makers after a massive recall of tainted pet food and treats last year.  An agreement in principle to settle the case was announced in April; lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendants said in the new court papers that a settlement had now been reached.

The issue with contaminated and tainted foot hit monumental proportions when tainted additives exported from China contaminated pet food in North America and it was discovered that Chinese plants produced and exported wheat gluten and rice protein laced with melamine, a compound used to make plastic, for use in pet food.  When pets began falling ill—and in many cases died as a result of kidney failure—over 120 pet food varieties were pulled off of the market.  Menu Foods—a Canadian-based maker of approximately 100 of the 120 tainted products—was the worst culprit.  Several US companies, including Las Vegas-based ChemNutra, imported the wheat gluten to North America from China.

The recall was initially announced in March 2007 and represented the largest pet food recall in history and involved over 150 brands of dog and cat food and a recall of tens of millions of pet food containers.  Pet owners maintain that the tainted ingredients were responsible for the sickening or death of hundreds of dogs and cats in North America.

Under the settlement, the companies will pay all of the pet owners' documented expenses for the injury and death of their pets as a result of consuming the recalled products.  Meanwhile, owners without expense documentation are still eligible to receive payments of up to $900.  Funds remaining after claims payments are disbursed will be given to animal-welfare charities.

The Associated Press reported last month that in the separate, earlier settlement, a pet food manufacturer whose contaminated pet food might be linked to the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats in North America agreed to settle over 100 class-action lawsuits with pet owners in the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, in February, the pet food catastrophe led to criminal charges against two Chinese companies and a Las Vegas business and their officers in a scheme to make and import tainted wheat gluten.  Wheat gluten is a common ingredient in many pet foods.  Meanwhile, according to a survey published in the official China Food Quality News, nearly two-thirds of all Chinese are worried about food safety, while one-fifth have no confidence in China’s drinking water.


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