Suit Filed Over Mad Cow Disclaimer

March 23, 2001 The Recorder by Jason Hoppin

A small San Francisco litigation firm has teamed up with Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach to sue a health supplements manufacturer, alleging the company misrepresents the danger of acquiring mad cow disease through its products.

The suit, filed under California's unfair business practices statute, alleges that Wisconsin's Standard Process Inc. uses, in part, crackpot science to allay customers' fears about the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

"Standard Process either knowingly or recklessly has omitted a material fact by failing to inform consumers that the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists and physicians have concluded that mad-cow disease is transmitted to humans by prions in bovine meat and/or bovine organs," Bushnell, Caplan & Fielding's Alan Caplan wrote.

The complaint points to a statement by the company about the safety of its products which suggests that pesticides may be to blame for mad cow outbreaks, not the consumption of meat.

"It's probably loosely referred to as research," deadpanned Jan Novakofski, a University of Illinois researcher who studies the disease. "The evidence for that kind of concept [versus the consumption theory] is about an ounce to a pound."

No cases of mad cow have ever been reported in the United States, and the plaintiff in the case, James Gorman, does not suffer from the disease. Instead, he is seeking damages for misrepresentation, fraud, unfair advertising and unfair business practices.

The case was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

The product, a vitamin supplement called Iplex 5100, is sold through licensed health professionals, including acupuncturists, nutritionists and the like.

Iplex 5100 is made in part, with cow parts: eyes, kidneys, livers, bones and brains, where BSE is most highly concentrated.

Standard Process did not return a phone call seeking comment, but the company's Web site says it purchases bovine products only from U.S. government-inspected facilities.

"Standard Process has never used any glandular substances or bovine tissue derivatives from animals in any BSE-infected country," the company states.

The human manifestation of BSE -- variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease -- has killed more than 80 people in Great Britain, and new outbreaks have recently been reported in several European countries.

U.S. officials have worried that dietary supplements may provide an entry point for the disease, which has been detected here in animals other than cows.

"The health food industry is totally unregulated," Novakofski said. "You go to the health food store and no one's ever tested anything."

However, Standard Process says its Wisconsin production facility is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that its cow products are certified by the government.

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