On November 24th 2014, the manufacturer for soy milk Bonsoy agreed to offer $25 million compensation to 500 victims in perhaps the largest settlement for a food poisoning case in Australian legal history.
The principal attorney from law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Jacob Varghese, announced that all three legal firms that are involved in the class action law suit have agreed to concede to the multi-million dollar settlement requested. A final ruling for the case will be made on the 28th of January 2015, and Varghese commented that all of the victims affected will be given an opportunity to say their piece.
The Details of the Case
The class action was first launched against Spiral Foods in 2010, on the behalf of hundreds of Australians that fell ill as a result of drinking Bonsoy soy milk. Between the years of 2004 and 2009, around five hundred people reported health problems that were caused by the damaging levels of iodine within Bonsoy.
The product was reformulated during August of 2003, during which time pure kombu - a type of seaweed, was substituted with a kombu powder. The change led to enhanced levels of iodine so severe that allegedly a single glass of Bonsoy accommodated approximately “50 times” an individual’s recommended daily iodine intake.
Excessive iodine consumption has extremely damaging effects on the gland responsible for controlling the metabolism – the thyroid. According to Jacob Varghese, the reactions ranged from “lethargy and anxiety from one end of the scale, to very severe episodes that would involve hospitalisation.”
Of the almost 500 people affected, some needed their thyroid gland removed, and a number of pregnant women also reported that the iodine poisoning had caused them to miscarry.
In 2013, Maurice Blackburn widened their class action to include litigation against two Japanese firms. The first was Marusan-Ai Co, who was responsible for manufacturing the milk, and the second was Muso Co, who exported it to Australia. The amended claim has also brought attention to the companies’ failure to act on a mid-2006 test that had indicated extremely high levels of iodine in the milk. Throughout the years, consumer concerns regarding products have also been repeatedly dismissed.
Varghese noted that if the settlement goes through, it will be the largest in relation to food safety that Australia has ever seen. The legal company are pleased with this prospect, and state that the large amount “reinforces how important it is for people to have access to a mechanism that can help remedy a mass wrong.”
If the settlement is approved, the $25 million will be paid into a trust to be distributed to participants in the class action.