“Got Milk?” The answer to that question may not be as cut and dried as you might believe, at least in Wisconsin. In a May 19 letter to the state Senate, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle explained his rationale behind his veto of Senate Bill 434, which would have authorized dairy farmers with a Grade A dairy farm permit to sell unpasteurized milk, buttermilk, butter, and cream directly to consumers. Sellers would have been required to post a warning sign at the site of sale stating that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization and is not recommended for certain categories of consumers – including children, seniors, pregnant or nursing women, diabetics, or those with compromised immune systems.
Citing widespread opposition from the public health community (including the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Food and Drug Administration, which has previously issued releases on the health issues related to unpasteurized milk) and numerous industry stakeholders, Governor Doyle explained that, in his view, the lack of rigor in the testing standards for pathogens, risks to public health and the state’s economic interests should an outbreak of disease linked to consumption of unpasteurized milk occur, and the ongoing work of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s recently created Raw Milk Policy Working Group, which has been charged with reviewing the legal and regulatory framework surrounding the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers in an attempt to strike a balance between market demand and public health, warranted a veto of the bill. An aide to Majority Leader Russ Decker stated that the Senate is not likely to attempt to override Governor Doyle’s veto.
This issue of the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers is not limited to Wisconsin. In his letter to the Senate, Governor Doyle mentioned the comprehensive testing approach required for raw milk products under California law. In order for raw milk to be legally sold in California, it must meet the standards provided in the Milk and Milk Products Act of 1947. Under California Administrative Code, raw milk and raw milk products must bear a detailed warning to consumers on the principal display panel of the label. Washington State Administrative Code also requires raw milk containers to bear a warning label. As more consumers express preferences for unprocessed, “natural” foods, issues related to the sale and consumption of unpasteurized milk could find a more prominent place in the judicial system and industry marketplace.
A lawsuit claiming that McDonald’s deceived the public about ingredients in its french fries and hash browns will not proceed as a class action. A federal judge in Chicago has denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, characterizing the proposed class and subclasses as “too indefinite and overbroad.”
According to the court’s opinion, the potato suppliers who provide McDonald’s with its french fries and hash browns par-fry the potatoes in oil made of 99 percent vegetable oil and one percent natural beef flavor. The beef flavor is partly made from wheat bran and casein (a dairy product). McDonald’s restaurants then fry the potatoes in 100% vegetable oil prior to serving the products to customers. Plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s falsely claimed its french fries and hash browns were gluten, wheat, and dairy-free. They say that they never would have purchased the potato products if they knew that the fries and hash browns were partially fried in oil containing wheat bran and casein. McDonald’s corrected its disclosure in 2006.
The plaintiffs proposed a class consisting of all persons residing in the United States who purchased McDonald’s french fries or hash browns between February 2002 and February 2006 and who, at the time of purchase, had been diagnosed with celiac disease, galactosemia, autism, and/or wheat, gluten, or dairy allergies.
In rejecting class certification, U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo noted that none of the plaintiffs has suffered any physical injury from eating the potato products; indeed, she noted that “plaintiffs testified in their depositions that they were quite satisfied with the Potato Products they consumed.” Additionally, Judge Bucklo noted that proving economic damage would be an “evidentiary headache” because the court would be required to review potentially millions of letters proving plaintiffs’ medical diagnoses and the damage to each potential class member would be nominal: between $1.00 and $1.50. Finally, the court ruled a nationwide class action would be unmanageable because state laws at issue in the case vary too much to apply to plaintiffs from across the country.
The case is In re McDonald’s French Fries Litigation, MDL No. 1784.