Tainted Pet Food Maker Reaches SettlementApr 2, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
According to the Associated Press, a pet food manufacturer whose contaminated pet food might be linked to the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats in North America has just agreed to settle over 100 class-action lawsuits with pet owners in the United States and Canada. 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 laced with melamine, a compound used to make plastic, for use in pet food. Last March, Menu Foods recalled tens of millions of pet food containers after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that wheat gluten in the food contained melamine. Several US companies, including Las Vegas-based ChemNutra, imported the wheat gluten to North America from China.
While the details of the "agreement in principle" were not disclosed at the hearing, preliminary settlement came after months of negotiations between lawyers for companies that manufactured or distributed the food and lawyers representing pet owners. The lawsuits were filed following the massive recalls of dog and cat food last spring. When pets began falling ill—and in many cases died as a result of kidney failure—over 120 varieties pet food varieties were pulled off the market. Menu Foods—a Canadian-based maker of approximately 100 of the 120 tainted products—was the worst culprit. Other companies that either manufactured or distributed tainted pet food also are defendants; Menu Foods and the other makers of the contaminated pet food will pay for the settlement, which will resolve litigation in both the US and Canada.
The total costs from the recall, although not confirmed, are expected to run about $53.8 million. Also, final settlement details are due to be filed in federal court in New Jersey on May 1. When the settlement agreement and claims process are finally approved by the US and Canadian courts, pet owners will be notified about how to pursue claims on the settlement fund.
In February, the pet food catastrophe led to criminal charges against two Chinese companies and a Las Vegas business and their officers in 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. The government has allegedly curbed the use of highly toxic pesticides in vegetable production and was making progress in stamping out the use of clenbuterol, a steroid used in pork production, which is illegal there. The compliance rate for the use of three toxins used in fish production—including malachite green, a potential carcinogen illegally used to kill fungus and bacteria in fish tanks—was rising. But last June, the US said it would not allow imports of Chinese farm-raised catfish, shrimp, and other seafood unless suppliers could prove shipments were free from harmful residues, including malachite green.