by EMMA YOUNGER
Hundreds of Australians allegedly poisoned by toxic soy milk are set to share in a $25 million settlement, in what is believed to be the country’s biggest ever payout concerning food safety.
About 500 people alleged they suffered health problems caused by dangerously high iodine levels contained in Bonsoy between 2004 and 2009.
It was alleged Bonsoy was reformulated in August 2003 and pure kombu (seaweed) was replaced with kombu powder, which had the effect of increasing the level of iodine. It was alleged one glass of milk contained 50 times the recommended daily intake of iodine.
Maurice Blackburn principal Jacob Varghese said it caused problems with the thyroid gland which regulates hormones that control metabolism.
“Ranging from lethargy and anxiety from one end of the scale, to very severe episodes that would involve hospitalisation,” he said. “In some cases people had to have their thyroids removed. In a couple of cases women say that they had miscarriages as a result of the excessive iodine.”
“I’ve been unable to have more children, which has been heartbreaking for me … my health isn’t adequate to be able to carry a baby.”
Erin Downie from the Dandenong Ranges is lactose-intolerant, and said she increased her intake of Bonsoy while breastfeeding her daughter Mirakye because she was told it would be good for her.
“My hair started to fall out, my gums began to bleed, and I lost all the use of my muscles in my body very quickly and I could no longer lift my baby after about four weeks, so I knew something was wrong.” Ms Downie said.
“I’ve been unable to have more children, which has been heartbreaking for me. I had plans to have more but my health isn’t adequate to be able to carry a baby.”
The Australian distributor and brand owner, Spiral Foods, and Japanese companies Muso and Marusan Ai-Co agreed to the settlement without admitting liability. It was lodged in the Supreme Court today for approval, with victims expected to begin receiving payouts within six months.
“We understand it’ll be the biggest settlement of any food safety class action in Australia.”
Mr Varghese said it was a warning to all food producers.
“We understand it’ll be the biggest settlement of any food safety class action in Australia,” he said. “That’s quite important I think, in sending a message to food producers that the class action system is available to consumers to assert their rights if something does go wrong in the production process.”
However, Tom Godfrey from Choice said regulators should have picked up on the breach far earlier.
“The outcome probably says more about the poor business practices and the need for regulatory intervention than it does for more class actions,” Mr Godfrey said.
“While class actions can play a vital role in helping consumers, I think most people find out about these class actions after they’ve closed or settled, which often leaves them without compensation.”
This post originally appeared on the ABC and has been republished with permission.