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Listeriosis victims still awaiting justice

Five years since a listeriosis outbreak in SA killed more than 200 people and caused severe illness in many others, human rights lawyers are still fighting for compensation for the victims from Tiger Brands, owner of Enterprise Foods, whose factory in Polokwane, Mpumalanga, was the source of the outbreak.

Richard Spoor Inc (RSI) Attorneys and LHL Attorneys are taking on Tiger Brands to compel it to compensate those infected or affected by the outbreak between January 2017 and July 2018, which killed 218 people and caused severe illness in hundreds more.

They want compensation to cover medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering, as well as a claim for constitutional damages, reports Daily Maverick.

The class action has been narrowed down to represent four key groups:

  • People who were infected with listeriosis but did not die;
  • Babies who contracted listeriosis while in utero but did not die
  • Those who were dependent on someone who died as a result of listeriosis; and
  • Those who are looking after people who contracted listeriosis.

There are more than 1 000 claimants in the class action.

Catherine Marcus, an attorney at RSI, said that compounding the complexity of the class action was the investigation by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in 2017-18.

“The investigation was threefold, made up of a microbiological investigation, epidemiological investigation and traceback investigation. The evidence relating to the details of these is complex and relatively new for South African courts to consider,” she said.

The parties were preparing for trial and awaiting evidence from third parties, she added.

“The NICD is critical to this case; it has provided valuable information relating to its investigation and evidence we believe is irrefutable, confirming Tiger’s responsibility for the outbreak.”

The parties were in communication and were endeavouring to move to trial swiftly. “However, no offer of settlement has been received from Tiger, despite overwhelming evidence of their liability,” she said.

Azure Fey, media and PR manager at Tiger Brands, said: “Tiger Brands’ legal team and the attorneys representing the plaintiffs continue to attend to pre-trial preparations to get the matter ready for trial, when liability will be determined by the court.”

Fey said Tiger Brands’ legal team and the plaintiffs’ attorneys had approached the NICD for access to its records. However, they had yet to receive the requested information.

Food safety in South Africa

The listeriosis outbreak had spotlighted food safety regulations in South Africa.

Mthokozisi Nkosi, CEO of ASC Consultants, which specialises in food safety and public health, said three government departments – Health; Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries; and Trade & I ndustry – manage food safety, but local government was responsible for municipal health services such as enforcing food safety legislation.

“Environmental health practitioners are empowered by law to monitor and ensure food is safe for consumption,” he said.

The Compulsory Specification for Processed Meat Products is a new regulation intended to enable the inspection of processing plants to avoid a similar tragedy.

There is also a regulation requiring processed meat facilities to have a health certification, meaning another authoritative body must be involved.

“You now have independent auditors, independent municipal inspectors, National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications inspectors (focusing on meat and processed meat), and assignees appointed by the Food Safety Agency, who also enforce hygiene standards in the facility,” Nkosi said.

“It is four different stakeholders doing almost exactly the same thing to the detriment of the industry, because this is very costly and most businesses are not able to survive this.”

Nkosi said there was no uniform training offered for inspectors or assignees.

“That is a problem. There isn’t any aerial view …to look at how we then combine all these different parties to ensure uniform regulation.”

A streamlined process, regular training (especially for people working with high-risk foods), and proper engagement with all stakeholders would be an ideal start to regulatory reform.

The listeriosis outbreak was a pivotal moment for food safety and public health experts worldwide, underscoring the devastating impact that foodborne illnesses can have on public health, Nkosi said.

“The outbreak emphasised how critical it was to consistently implement robust controls to prevent such illnesses and injuries,” he said.

 

Daily Maverick article – Listeriosis victims’ long wait for justice while class action lawyers gather evidence (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Listeriosis class action suit stalls

 

Tiger Brands listeriosis class action still awaiting trial date

 

Child’s health declines as Tiger Brands listeriosis case drags on

 

SCA upholds listeriosis subpoena appeal against Tiger Brands

 

Tiger Brands' listeriosis victims in legal limbo for 3 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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