Bonsoy Class Action: case closed (how the system failed)

It’s been a very long time.

In December 2010, I was racing at the Tour of Bright and noticed my top-end climbing on the bike was “off”.

Something just wasn’t right.

In the preceding months, Family members had commented I looked “sick” and wife’s grandmother had commented I looked “too thin”.

Ha-ha-ha. As a cyclist? Badge of honour. I was at 54kg and flying.

But that Bright race? Something was wrong.

So I went to the doctor and explained what was up.

He was a cyclist too, so duly sent me off for routine full blood panels.

I got a call 48 hours later that would change my life, and the lives of hundreds of other people.

A précis of the phone call was: “there’s something very wrong with your thyroid, you need to come back in tomorrow.”

From there, after a referral to an endocrinologist and a battery of tests, it was determined I was suffering from hyperthyroidism.

It explained my 54kg (5’7″, down from a healthy 63kg racing weight) and “bug-eyed” appearance. And on reflection, the black outs I’d experienced mid-sleep when I’d gotten up to go to the loo in July when snowboarding at Hotham – one time smashing my head on the toilet – weren’t normal. This diagnosis explained all this.

(A good example of how men brush medical stuff off.)

By chance, a mate had shot me an article in the paper about a Bonsoy recall, due to the suspect link to a hyperthyroidism cluster.

Bonsoy’s distributor (let’s call them the owner), Spiral Foods, disavowed any link. You can see their media updates and passive aggressive denials here:

Spiral’s denials made my blood boil.

So I started website and started digging.

Before I knew it, I had scores of emails from people who had experienced the exact same issue after consuming Bonsoy.

I knew there was more to this than a small cluster, because Bonsoy was marketing as a healthy alternative to milk and LOTS of people drank it.

A person from NZ sent me a ton of info from research she’d done after an earlier suggestion Bonsoy made people ill (circa 2006 I think).

I contact Slater Gordon and was told I had no case.

So I contacted Maurice Blackburn and shared details of the by now hundreds of contacts I’d had from affected people from AFL footballers to C-suite executives at major corporations. It was nuts. The stories were heartbreaking: failed marriages, lost careers, broken relationships. Some of the saddest stories of all included a mother not being able to hold her new baby due to being too sick.

Maurice Blackburn moved quickly, found a lead plaintiff and got to work.

What followed was 6 years of methodical information-gathering and court proceedings.

Interestingly, the case received little mainstream media coverage besides an occasional newspaper article. I was quite honestly shocked that shows like The Project and other SJW (social justice warrior) publications weren’t all over this. After all, hundreds of people were party to the action. Had this been a pork roll or peanut butter salmonella poisoning, it would have been wall to wall coverage with coverage from the likes of The Today Show.

It truly was one of the most puzzling aspects of the case, especially since it was settled for A$25Million—one of the biggest food-related class action settlements in Oz if I am correct.

Yes, in the end, Spiral and its co-defendants settled the action.

There were some really frustrating parts about this case: most pointedly, Spiral’s behaviour. Also, more obviously, was the regulator’s (system’s) failure in managing the recall. And lastly, the reaction of those not affected.

The most frustrating aspect about this was the actions and attitude of Spiral. Their, what I would call, nefarious and underhanded behaviour made people ill, and though they have not got off scott-free (their insurance premiums will increase I’m sure), considering the damage they’ve done, I see them as having escaped pretty lightly. They’re back on shelves and millions of people are none-the-wiser. (I recommend Vitasoy as an organic, non GMO alternative that’s also WAY cheaper.)

I would also say that the attitude of some cafes and Bonsoy fans was truly bizarre. After the product was recalled in December 2010, I was at a cafe in Chapel St, Toorak, and they were still serving it. When I pointed out it had been recalled, the cafe feigned ignorance. I suppose they might not have known about it, in which case, where was the regulator? As I said before, had this been a contaminated peanut butter product, Coles/Woolies would be all over it. This stuff was making people gravely ill and these clowns were still serving it?

I also found it bemusing that people who drank Bonsoy and were unaffected spent time commenting on the site about how the victims were wrong, were money grabbers, were sick from something else (despite the expert opinion of endocrinologists and the medical community, and of course, the findings of the legal experts). I spent a lot of time, probably pointlessly, responding to these people. I might point out that saying that since you drank Bonsoy and didn’t get sick from it, then it mustn’t be the Bonsoy, is like saying “I smoked and didn’t get lung cancer ipso facto smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer”. Plainly laughable.

All of that aside, after a long wait, and with untold damage to people’s lives, and after a year of administration, money was disbursed before Christmas 2016, shutting the door on what was a personally horrific experience.

The absolute worst part of this is lots of us don’t know if we’ll be affected in the future. It’s possible we’ll experience thyroid or other problems in the future, but that will be it—the case is closed.

I could write thousands of words about this, but I’ll close by thanking Erin for taking on the lead plaintiff role. You have our deep gratitude, Erin. I’d also like to thank Irina and the team at Maurice Blackburn for taking this on. Their application and hard work was unending. Yes, Maurice Blackburn made money out of this, and why shouldn’t they. They represented 100’s of people where no one else would, and got people compensation. Thanks Irina and the team.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in to provide their personal stories, encouragement or even evidence/research (you know who you are).

And lastly, thanks to wifey Kate. She put up with a very sick and cranky Timbo and we lost some quality time together.