Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The first BSE lawsuit

News of a family filing a lawsuit against a grocery chain over the December BSE recall case.
    A Bellevue, Washington family last week filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Quality Food Centers (QFC), a subsidiary of Kroger, saying the grocery store chain should have used information gathered through its customer loyalty program to warn people who bought beef potentially tainted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

    The suit seeks to represent all Washington residents who purchased potentially tainted meat after a case of BSE was found in a dairy cow in Washington state on December 23, 2003. The suit also asks the court to establish a medical monitoring fund.

    On December 23, USDA ordered the recall of approximately 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which if consumed by humans might lead to a new varient of Cruetzfeldt-Jakobs Disease (vCJD).

    Jill Crowson purchased potentially tainted beef from a Bellevue QFC on December 22 and 23, and used her Advantage Card, QFC's customer loyalty program. She served the meat to her husband later that week, and later heard of the recall of the beef in the newspaper.

    Steve Berman, the attorney representing the Crowsons, asserts that since the company tracks purchases, it should have warned the Crowsons and many other customers who purchased the beef at approximately 40 stores across Washington.

    QFC, like many grocery chains, tracks customer purchases through loyalty cards like the Advantage Card. Once a customer shares contact information -- including name, address and phone number -- they are given discounts on certain items. The loyalty cards track customers' purchases and stores them in a central database, the complaint states.

    "We contend that QFC knew which Advantage Card customers purchased the suspect meat, and could have easily called to warn them," said Berman.

    According to the complaint, QFC at first mistakenly believed it did not have any of the affected beef and took no action to remove the product from its shelves. The store removed the beef on Christmas eve, but then did little to warn those who earlier purchased the meat - posting small signs with recall information on December 27, the complaint says.

    The proposed class-action claims QFC violated provisions of the Washington Product Liability Act by failing to give adequate warning to consumers about the potentially dangerous meat.
Maybe this will spur the Department of Agriculture to think more seriously about keeping the food supply safer rather than worrying about the expense of doing so. In the end, when more cases of BSE are discovered, the cost to agribusiness will be even greater, not to mention the problems associated with exposing more people to BSE tainted meat.

Regarding more testing, bad things has the scoop. From the, plans to test 200,000 to 300,000 cows are in place. Note that we slaughter 35 million cows per year, so getting out my calculator, we will now be testing a whopping 0.86% of cows slaughtered, way up from the previous number of 0.00055% of cows tested. Phew! I feel so much better. (Remember: Japan tests 100% of their cows, Europe test 25%. Japan has found 11 cases of BSE already this year).