Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Ten area residents are demanding the dairy industry put warning labels on milk cartons for lactose-intolerant consumers.

The group is expected to file a class-action lawsuit today in the District of Columbia’s Superior Court on behalf of all District residents who are or may become lactose intolerant.

Plaintiffs said in an advance copy of the suit they unwittingly suffered lactose intolerance for an unspecified time period by buying and drinking milk from several local stores.

Defendants include supermarket chains Giant Foods LLC and Safeway Inc. in addition to Nestle Holdings Inc., part of Swiss food giant Nestle SA.

The group is being represented by a lawyer with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington public health group that advocates a vegetarian lifestyle.

“We believe a majority of the people in the District are lactose intolerant,” said Dan Kinburn, the committee’s associate general counsel.

The committee plans to file suits about other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, depending on how successful the new suit is, he said.

Lactose intolerance, which affects about 25 percent of the U.S. adult population, is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, the main sugar in milk, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Common symptoms include nausea, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea, which begin about 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods containing lactose, NIH said.

Plaintiffs include District residents Rashid Gholson, 7 years old and the only child, Norma Humphries, Lynette Garner, Darrell Bransome, Paula Miller, Glenda G. Costner, Sibyl Harold and Elizabeth Russell.

Maryland resident Augustin Cherng, who bought his milk in the District, also was listed as a plaintiff.

Additionally, Dr. Milton Mills, a Maryland doctor who serves on the committee’s advisory board, was listed as a plaintiff but is not seeking any damages, the suit said.

All of the other plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary awards for the pain and suffering they experienced from drinking milk. The lawsuit also requests a lactose-intolerance warning on milk cartons.

Defendants in the suit, who would not comment when contacted, includes Nestle Holdings, Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif., and Giant Foods in Landover.

The suit also names dairy companies including Dean Foods Co. in Dallas, Farmland Dairies LLC in Wallington, N.J., Shenandoah’s Pride LLC in Wilmington, Del., Cloverland Farms Dairy Inc. in Baltimore, and Stonyfield Farm Inc. in Londonderry, N.H.

The lawsuit focuses on dairy producers instead of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling, in an effort to prompt change within the industry, Mr. Kinburn said.

The International Dairy Foods Association, a Washington trade group that has been sued by the committee, called the lawsuit a “baseless attack on the dairy and meat industries.”

“They have been doing actions like this against the dairy industry for the past 10 years and not one lawsuit has stuck,” spokeswoman Susan Ruland said.

The physicians committee in June sued the industry to stop its national advertising campaigns that promise weight loss with increased dairy consumption. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

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