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PCRM Argues for Milk Warning Labels

If a product could make you sick from a condition that is common but is not commonly known about, wouldn’t you want to be warned? That’s what PCRM doctors asked judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit September 14 in an appeal in a lactose intolerance warning label lawsuit.

lactose intolerance symptomsLast month’s hearing is just the latest step in the two-year court battle. In October 2005, 10 D.C.-area residents—including Milton Mills, M.D., an area physician, and a 7-year-old boy—filed a class-action lawsuit against Safeway and other dairy retailers, calling for milk carton labeling warning consumers that milk can cause serious digestive illness. The plaintiffs sued on behalf of all D.C. residents, arguing that many residents are not aware they are lactose intolerant and unwittingly buy milk, only to suffer side effects after drinking it. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the suit on technical grounds, but PCRM’s appeal of that ruling is now moving forward.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose, a normal process that occurs after the age of weaning. For those who are lactose intolerant, drinking milk can result in abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other painful gastrointestinal symptoms. Approximately 75 percent of the world’s population—including 60 percent to 80 percent of African-Americans, 50 percent to 80 percent of Latinos, and at least 90 percent of Asian-Americans and Native Americans—is lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance is often unrecognized because it comes on gradually and occurs in individuals who were previously able to drink milk without symptoms. “Imagine a child of 8 or 10 years of age getting sick every day, and no one knows why,” says Kinburn. “These children are often misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, parasites, or other illnesses until someone figures out the problem is milk.”

The case was argued by Dan Kinburn, PCRM’s general counsel. The defendants are Giant of Maryland, Safeway, Horizon Organic, Dean Foods, Nestle Holdings, Farmland Dairies, Shenandoah’s Pride, Stonyfield Farm, and Cloverland Farms Dairy.

A ruling should be issued in the coming months. “We believe the appeals court will overturn this anti-consumer ruling to protect the health of thousands of District residents who are lactose intolerant,” Kinburn said.


PCRM Online, October 2007

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