Media: More soy milk victims come forward to join class action

Source: Maurice Blackburn
Hundreds of Australians have been made sick by Bonsoy milk containing high levels of iodine with over 300 contacting law firm Maurice Blackburn.

In late September, Maurice Blackburn issued proceedings on behalf of 25 people nationwide and now 293 more have come forward with 155 of these people joining the class action. A Brisbane woman who became critically ill after the birth of her first child is one of the 11 Queenslanders who have so far come forward.

“Every day more people are coming forward with some disturbing health problems,” said Maurice Blackburn Queensland principal Rod Hodgson.

“The scale of the problem is much bigger than originally thought.”

A number of clients have had to have their thyroids removed to control hyperthyroidism and will be on medication for the rest of their lives, some people have had serious thyroid autoimmune disorders allegedly triggered by Bonsoy.

“Women have had miscarriages or babies with abnormalities. Others have a range of chronic health problems that stop them from living, working and having normal lives.

The legal action is against the distributor of Bonsoy, Spiral Foods Pty Ltd, for breach of the Trade Practices Act and for negligence.

“Spiral Foods were responsible for a product containing a dangerous concentration of iodine. The health consequences of excess iodine are well known. This danger could have been easily foreseen, and its existence discovered with a simple test.”

Marketed as ‘the original and the best’ soy milk, Bonsoy was recalled worldwide shortly before last Christmas after it was discovered that one glass of the product contained seven times the safe dose of iodine. Before the recall, scores of people developed thyroid problems after consuming the soy milk. From at least 2003 Spiral Foods was adding kombu, an iodine-rich seaweed, to the soy milk.
There is strong medical evidence that excess iodine consumption causes thyroid conditions which can lead to severe chronic and acute illness.

“Our clients are health-conscious people – they drank this milk to improve their health, and they got sick- some critically ill. Some have quit their jobs and lost their businesses because of their illnesses. Others live with ongoing health problems and their lives have been devastated.”

“We are not talking about a factory-floor problem here affecting a certain batch of product – it was a very basic design flaw which affected Bonsoy milk produced over at least six years.

“Many more people are likely to be affected but may not realise it. Anyone who has experienced significant illness or was diagnosed with a thyroid condition after drinking Bonsoy milk between 2003 and 2009 could be eligible to join the class action,” said Mr Hodgson.

Maurice Blackburn investigations reveal that Bonsoy contained kombu (an iodine-rich substance added to improve the taste) from at least 2003 to the end of 2009.

“We believe there is a very good case for compensation for medical expenses and loss of income, as well as pain and suffering and other losses for many of our clients,” said Mr Hodgson.

The case is going to a directions hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday 12 November which will provide a timetable for the legal action.

Those who believe they could be affected should call 1800 810 856

Background – Shannon Cotterill

Brisbane woman Shannon Cotterill drank Bonsoy for over four years prior to it being recalled from the market. During her pregnancy she drank at least half a litre most days. Shannon gave birth to her daughter Lucy in late 2009 and shortly after became very unwell with three hospital admissions including one for congestive heart failure. At the time she suffered weight loss, severe muscle weakness, a heart rate of over 150bpm, anxiety and significant hair loss.

I could not walk up stairs or hold Lucy, I had to give up breastfeeding. We had to move back home with my Mum and Dad because I was too sick to look after Lucy or do anything around the house. I’ve had to extend my maternity leave because I’m not well enough to return to work.

Doctors were unsure of what was causing her symptoms and it was only after the recall of Bonsoy that it occurred to her that her symptoms could be linked to the product.

Shannon’s ongoing symptoms include severe fatigue, muscle weakness and joint pain.

“When I have a minor illness, like a cold, many of my symptoms resurface and I find it difficult to recover,” she says.

Shannon believes there may be other people in Queensland who are affected by Bonsoy milk with high levels of iodine in it.

Shannon’s daughter Lucy now 11 months has some lumps in her body. Doctors are monitoring Lucy’s lumps.

“I put Lucy to bed every night, kiss her and tell her I love her and that I’ll see her in the morning, then I silently wish for her to not ever suffer because of this.”

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Bonsoy – Medical Journal Australia paper

Thanks to the two people who sent this in to me.

I’ve uploaded the article as a pdf, downloadble here [113kb pdf].

Basically the article confirms the high levels of iodine in Bonsoy (refer table 2, page 3 of pdf) – 25,000-27,000 micrograms (ugrams/L) of iodine per litre.

Compare this to other soy milks which range from 15-30 ugrams/L. Yes, the difference is that large – nearly 1,000 times as much iodine.

Whilst a few people have pointed out the dangers of insufficient iodine, this article also makes the case for the need for testing of imported food for contaminants, in particular for iodine.

I’m actually shocked that something like Bonsoy (or anything really) could be allowed to be sold in Australia without testing, especially given our fairly strict food standards. I can’t even buy Clif Bars locally due one organic ingredient, but Bonsoy is ok? What gives?

There’s a bigger question here and it revolves around Food Standards Australia NZ, and also the 2003-2005 Vitasoy iodine case. Why was that case swept under the rug? To my mind, the whole Bonsoy debacle ought never have happened. You can’t tell me the soy milk industry in the Tasman region is so big that Spiral didn’t know about the Vitasoy case.

Anyway, at least we have some serious investigation and action on this whole schemozzle.

The Bonsoy Class Action – Thanks

I’ve received a few emails thanking me for the website and to help get the action going, or at least get it in people’s minds.

Firstly, thanks to those people for emailing me.

Secondly, thanks to everyone who shared the personal – sometimes heart-wrenching – personal stories in post/page comments, or by emailing me (some were understandably too raw to post for everyone to read).

Thanks to a particular person who wishes to remain anonymous for sending me a LOT of information about soy, and in particular the 2004-2005 NZ Vitasoy case. This to me was very important in showing a clear failure of accountability in the industry.

Thanks to Maurice Blackburn for taking this on. I’m especially thankful toward Irina, who saw the injustice in this from the start, and spent a lot of time putting information together to build a case.
I’m no bleeding heart – I understand MB is a business. But at the same time, this isn’t a big money asbestos case or something. I think Maurice Blackburn should be commended for taking this on as a social justice case.

And a thank you to Erin, the lead plaintiff. She obviously has been through a lot, so I think it shows a fair bit of courage to go through legal action on behalf of everyone else.

It will be interesting to wait and see how it all pans out, but I’m sure for many of you, it’s a huge relief to see this issue pushed into the public consciousness, and to know that someone is batting for you, and that all your tears and hard times won’t go unacknowledged.

Very lastly, I sincerely hope all of you who’ve been affected can get better, or are getting better, and can get your lives back on track.

I’ll be posting more information here as developments unfold.

Below are a few news items on this issue. I was away in NZ for a wedding when this hit last week, so was unable to curate a list for you all. I missed the media conference and a few press contacts which is disappointing. However, I’m sure we’ll see this all over the press as the case develops.

Tim

The Bonsoy Class Action – How to Join

Sorry for the delay in getting this up, I was in NZ for a wedding as the class action was launched last week.

I’ve had LOADS of emails from people asking if they can join, and how.

Maurice Blackburn have provided the below information for posting to you all. Please contact them before emailing me for information. I can’t help you join, I’ll just be able to point you in the right direction.

Once again, I’d like to re-iterate this is being undertaken by Maurice Blackburn on a no win-no fee basis, so apart from retaining Maurice Blackburn (for no fee, regardless of the outcome), there is no obligation on you whatsoever.

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Bonsoy Class Action
Maurice Blackburn is conducting the Bonsoy Class Action in the Supreme Court of Victoria seeking compensation for people from around Australia who have suffered an injury from consuming Bonsoy milk.

The proposed claim

Bonsoy soy milk is distributed throughout Australia by Spiral Foods Pty Ltd. Prior to December 2009, Bonsoy was sold widely in most supermarkets as well as health food shops and cafes.

At that time Bonsoy was enriched with a kombu extract which is a type of seaweed and very rich in iodine. Iodine is necessary for thyroid function, but is only required in very small amounts. Excess amounts of iodine can affect the thyroid and cause illness which may be severe.

The recall

In late December 2009, Spiral Products Pty Ltd voluntarily withdrew Bonsoy from the Australian market when it was discovered that it contained extremely high levels of iodine which could lead to serious health problems. The level of iodine in one glass of Bonsoy was found to be around 7 times the safe upper limit for adults. Drinking 30mg of Bonsoy a day for adults, or 5mg for a child, resulted in consumption of unsafe levels of iodine.

The recall occurred after people suffered serious health problems caused by Bonsoy consumption including hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. These conditions of the thyroid can result in the following symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations and in severe cases heart attacks
  • Sudden and severe weight loss or weight gain
  • Loss of muscle tone and function
  • Pain in the muscles
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and mental disturbance
  • Hair loss
  • Menstrual irregularities in women
  • Miscarriage
  • Intolerance to cold or heat
  • Skin rashes and peeling
  • Eye conditions including permanent eyesight damage
  • Obviously enlarged thyroid gland

These symptoms may have a gradual or sudden onset and continue for months or years while excess iodine is consumed.

Who is affected by the Class Action?

If successful, the Bonsoy class action will benefit people who suffered thyroid conditions and injury due to the consumption of Bonsoy milk from at least 2003 up to the end of 2009.

Where can I obtain further information?

Maurice Blackburn is conducting the Bonsoy Class Action on a “no win – no charge” basis. This means that if you retain Maurice Blackburn you will not need to pay any legal costs or disbursements unless we recover compensation for you.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Bonsoy Class Action or if you wish to consider retaining Maurice Blackburn to protect your rights, please telephone us on 03 9605 2865 or email bonsoy – at -mauriceblackburn.com.au. You can also visit the Maurice Blackburn Bonsoy Class Action page.

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Update on Legal Action against Spiral Foods

Just a quick update on the progress of potential legal action against Spiral by Maurice Blackburn. I received this email this morning:

Hi Tim,

To keep you up to date – I’ve been contacted by about a dozen of your readers and have got a decent cross-section of the possible damage out there. I’m hoping that a decision re progressing the case will be made shortly.

To all of you who have not yet contacted Maurice Blackburn, I urge you to contact them using the details below. I previously discussed this here.

Contact Details
Irina Lubomirska
Assistant: Jade Casey
T (03) 9605 2735
F (03) 9258 9610
E jcasey@mauriceblackburn.com.au

I suggest you email Jade, and give her your full story. I think emailing would be best as you give them the chance to go through it, then call you back to clarify anything.

Make sure you quantify any medical costs, time off work costs and importantly, any serious side-effects (like your partner has had to take time off work etc).

To be clear:

  • There is no obligation on anyone contacting Irina.
  • You will not be asked to sign any agreement or anything of that nature at this stage.
  • If a class action proceeds, it will be on a no-win, no-fee basis.
  • If a class action proceeds, you’ll be able to decide whether to sign up or not.
  • At the moment this is an information-gathering exercise only.

Potential Class Action – your details needed

I’ve been contacted by a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn who is doing some pre-work on a potential class action. At this stage the work is an information gathering exercise only, but it’s good to see someone collating all the information.

Given what you have all been sharing, there is real potential here for people to recover damages, which has been made very difficult in recent times due to government legislation.

I therefore urge everyone who has been affected, to contact the lawyer using the details below. Please do not put your contact details here; contact the lawyer directly.

The lawyer has given me the go-ahead to post her details. She is interested in anyone affected by illness related to Bonsoy consumption. I have posted her assistants details so that if Irina is out of the office, your details will be collected.

Contact Details
Irina Lubomirska
Assistant: Jade Casey
T (03) 9605 2735
F (03) 9258 9610
E jcasey@mauriceblackburn.com.au

I suggest you email Jade, and give her your full story. I think emailing would be best as you give them the chance to go through it, then call you back to clarify anything.

Make sure you quantify any medical costs, time off work costs and importantly, any serious side-effects (like your partner has had to take time off work etc).

To be clear:

  • There is no obligation on anyone contacting Irina.
  • You will not be asked to sign any agreement or anything of that nature at this stage.
  • If a class action proceeds, it will be on a no-win, no-fee basis.
  • If a class action proceeds, you’ll be able to decide whether to sign up or not.
  • At the moment this is an information-gathering exercise only.

Good luck!

Recovering your Costs from Spiral: What You’ll Need

I had an email from Jade the other day, asking what she can do about recovering costs from Spiral Foods.

Firstly, I’ll re-iterate that unless you’ve suffered permanent damage (heart, thyroid, etc) or had something serious happen (like a pregnancy complication), you’ll only really be able to claim time off work, medical (and similar) expenses and loss of earnings.

If you have more permanent or serious damage, or have experienced something quite serious (like a miscarriage) then you must contact Slater and Gordon (or someone of their ilk) immediately. Slater and Gordon have a specific lawyer for this case.

I strongly recommend you collate all the following information:

  1. For medical costs, including medication costs, all tax invoices.
  2. For loss of earnings, proof from your employer (if applicable) of all days off, and the related cost.* For self-employed people, you’ll need to be able to prove the loss of income (perhaps a Statutory Declaration may suffice).
  3. In all cases, you’ll need a letter from an medical practitioner such as your GP or an endocrinologist noting:
    • the condition from which you suffered,
    • the relationship between your condition and the intake of Bonsoy Soy Milk,
    • details of medical treatment,
    • the need for time off work (if applicable),
    • any other relevant matters.

You then must contact Spiral Foods, who have engaged their insurers (who have in turn engaged their lawyers).

These lawyers are now following up with specific cases (I have been contacted – more on this shortly).

* For time off work, you ought to claim sick days incurred due to Bonsoy-related matters, because ordinarily you would not have had to use your sick days as you’d ordinarily not have been sick.

Spiral Foods Getting Sued?

On one of my recent posts, we had a someone (who turned out to be a News Ltd journalist) asking a lot of questions.

She got in touch with me and we had some fairly lengthy discussions, some of which was on the record for an article in the Daily Telegraph.

The to-press article, which is here, didn’t include any of the information I provided, which was very disappointing as I provided some detailed information about the 2003-2004 cases in NZ (which you can read about here).

I thought it was a pretty weak article (not the author’s fault, I’m told the editing team chopped it down) – this issue is worthy of a bit more investigation, particularly in regard of the food authorities.

One blog sought to link increases in the price of Bonsoy to any such legal cases – a fairly long bow to draw (and that’s being very generous).

I’m pretty interested to see how this progresses. As I have mentioned here, most people will be able to make a claim under established legislation for medical costs and time off work. People with more serious injuries (pregnancy issues, permanent thyroid or heart damage) really ought to contact someone like Slater and Gordon, as they probably should have a damages claim assessed for viability.

An Update: “Tim, time to come off the medication”

So, I received a letter from my endocrinologist yesterday.

I am back to normal on all thyroid markers; T4, T3 and TSH – smack bang in the middle of all the reference ranges.

So, after 5 months on medication, I am back.

My heart is still utterly stuffed – I reckon I’ve lost 10-20bpm off my peak heart, which has a massive effect in races – and my fitness has dropped around 20-30% (I’ve lost about 2-3 minutes per km when running), and it still starts racing for no reason at random moments, but I’m sleeping better after 5 months of crap sleep.

So, I have two more blood tests (TFT tests) over the next two months, and assuming those are ok, I’ll have the medical cost and lost time totals that I will be seeking to recover from Spiral.

I have a letter from my endocrinologist pinpointing my illness to Bonsoy consumption. I am tossing up whether to make the wording of this available to others of you seeking to recover costs from Spiral.

Don’t forget though, something like this can potentially permanently damage your health, and that’s the basis upon which you may be able to make a future claim against the manufacturer for damages (and that’s when things start getting serious from a legal perspective) – read more here.

I hope all of you are recovering too.

Tim

Update on Legal Action and Medical Cost Recovery

So, here is the state of play regarding cost recovery from Spiral Foods – their lawyers and insurance company are now involved.

Legal Information from my contact with my lawyers
I met with a lawyer today to ascertain the viability of proceeding with a legal case.

Some of what I discussed will remain confidential (bearing in mind Spiral Foods representatives read this site), but here’s where I am at. I hope it gives you renewed hope.

I will be pursuing medical costs and lost time from work, now. I can’t tell you on what basis this will happen, but it is made under established legislation. If you email me, I can provide this info for you.

If, within the next 3 years (according to current Victorian legislation), I have continuing ongoing issues, then the matter can be taken further then under damages legislation.

As an aside, the lawyer advised me that anyone with more serious issues, such as extended time off work, serious heart, thyroid (or otherwise issues) or pregnancy issues (miscarriage or otherwise), ought to contact Slater and Gordon immediately. They have a dedicated area for handling this issue.

Although this absolutely does not constitute legal advice, it has been strongly recommended that no one sign anything that limits your ability to sue for damages later down the track.

So, if you are offered compensation for medical costs/time off work on the basis that you will not be able to take action later, it was strongly recommended to me that one should not sign any agreement that contained such a provision.

Information from Spiral Foods
Until May 2010, I have had zero response from Spiral on recovering costs. I initially called them and they seemed amenable, providing me the contact below.

Previously, the contact for enquiries was Lisa Carey at Spiral Foods (Ph: 1300 303 794).

Incidentally, the new contact, according to the current press release on the Spiral website is:
Meghann Dengate
Professional Public Relations
Phone: 02 9818 9311
Mobile: [removed for privacy reasons]
E-mail: meghann dot dengate at ppr dot com dot au

Despite several attempts to elicit a response, I have not received anything until the morning of May 10th, 2010.

Here’s what I got back.

Thank you for your email. We confirm that your email was forwarded to our insurer. We have now been advised that our insurer has appointed lawyers to investigate the matter and will send a copy of your email to the lawyers. As you can appreciate under our insurance policy any compensation claims must be dealt with by the insurer and its lawyers not by Spiral Foods. We understand the lawyers are in the process of investigating all potential claims. We understand your frustration and we have urged the insurer and its lawyers to deal with your email as quickly as possible.

So, my advice (remembering I am not a lawyer) is that you collect your medical costs, keep all your receipts (including for medication) and keep a track of all your days off work.

More information as things develop…