Tainted Pet Food Lawsuits Settled

Diamond Pet Foods—the company that made <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/pet_treats_salmonella">contaminated pet food that killed dozens of dogs nationwide—will pay $3.1 million in a settlement with pet owners, an attorney said Friday.  The company will set up a fund to reimburse pet owners for the loss of their dog; related veterinarian bills; and the cost of any unreturned, contaminated food, according to attorney Jim Andrews, who represented a Knoxville, Tennessee family who sued Diamond.  The pet food, which contained a mold called aflatoxin, was produced at Diamond Pet Foods’ South Carolina plant.  Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring chemical that comes from a fungus sometimes found on corn and in other crops; the fungus can cause severe liver damage.  The contaminated pet food was sold in 23 states and Diamond recalled about 20 varieties of dog and cat food when a New York veterinarian said in December 2005 that she had linked a dog’s death to the company’s food.  According to the settlement, an estimated 350,000 bags of dog food were recalled.

Diamond Pet Foods, based in Meta, Montana, acknowledged that workers at its S.C., plant failed to follow internal testing procedures to ensure its products were safe.  The company made the acknowledgment after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report confirming the company has no record of test results for 12 shipments of corn in 2005, when grain tainted with the deadly fungus slipped into the plant.  According to the settlement, Diamond contends it did nothing illegal; however, an attorney for the company said Diamond would cooperate with claimants.  “Diamond’s taken care of its customers since the very first day that they found out about this and I think the settlement that we’ve entered into continues to do that,” said attorney Jeffrey Thompson.  Both attorneys said Friday they did not know how many people were expected to file claims against the company; however, according to the settlement agreement, Diamond and its insurer have settled about 1,200 related claims for compensation ranging from the price of recalled food to veterinary bills and pet deaths.

The settlement states owners of a dog who died as a result of eating contaminated food could receive as much as $1,000, compensated as much as additional $1,000 for testing and treatment, receive payment for up to two bags of food. Claimants’ attorneys will receive $465,000, to be paid out from the $3.1 million.

The 2005 recall is unrelated to recalls of over 100 pet food brands in early 2007.  In that case, investigators traced pet deaths to a toxic chemical—melamine—added during manufacturing in China.  Melamine is a nitrogen-rich chemical used to make plastic and sometimes used as fertilizer and may have been deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that has sickened and killed cats and dogs across the country.  The prevailing theory is that melamine was added to fake higher protein levels.  Melamine was found in wheat gluten; rice protein concentrate; and—in South Africa—corn gluten, all imported from China for use in pet food.

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