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    Did General Mills Deliberately Ignore Complaints About Problems with Gluten-Free Cheerios?


    Jefferson Adams


    • Consumers seek to reinstate suit against General Mills for Gluten Free Cheerios recall.


    Image Caption: Photo: CC--Mike Mozart

    Celiac.com 04/24/2017 - The fallout continues from General Mills' recall of nearly 2 million boxes of Gluten Free Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios in 2015, which occurred after workers at a California plant accidentally loaded gluten-free oat flour into trucks that had been holding wheat flour, which contains gluten, and which then contaminated batches of "gluten-free" cereal produced with the grain from those trucks.


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    In comments to the U.S. Ninth Circuit court, plaintiffs representing a proposed class of consumers claimed that a lower court had erred in dismissing their lawsuit on the grounds that the company's recall program made the claims baseless. They asked that the court allow their lawsuit against General Mills to continue. The suit is based on claims that the supposedly gluten-free Cheerios that had been made with the wrong flour, and that the cereal had sickened consumers.

    Lead plaintiff Christopher Hamilton told the panel that a refund program alone does not moot a claim for damages, as courts have held that, while refund programs do moot restitution claims, they do not moot claims for damages and injunctive relief, such as Hamilton's. "Indeed, in a case based on the exact facts present here, a court in California held that the Cheerios recall program did not moot a consumer's damages claim because the defendants did not satisfy the plaintiff's claims for statutory damages and injunctive relief," said Hamilton.

    Hamilton, who has celiac disease, brought his suit in March 2016 after buying the supposedly "gluten-free," wheat-contaminated Cheerios. One sample revealed 43 parts per million of gluten, more than twice the legal ceiling for the "gluten-free" label, Hamilton said in his complaint.

    Still, to the layperson, Hamilton's request for damages and injunctive relief invites questions. First, since the company issued a full product recall, what type of injunctive relief would they be seeking? Second, regarding damages, exactly what type of monetary damages would be claimed? Did these plaintiffs incur medical expenses, missed work or other costs? That is not made clear in these filings.

    When U.S. District Judge Michael McShane dismissed the original suit in July, he did so based on the fact that General Mills did issue a full product recall. In his statements on the matter, the judge wrote: "Rather than mitigate his damages by accepting General Mills' recall/refund offer, Hamilton is suing General Mills for false labeling, marketing and promotion of the product. Hamilton paints a discreet [sic] manufacturing mishap as a grand scheme of deceptive advertising, marketing and labeling." Judge McShane added, "I find this to be creative at best."

    But Hamilton says that he should be permitted to amend his complaint to include claims that the recall was delayed, and that the company was aware of complaints from sick consumers as early as July 2015. Hamilton also wishes to include allegations that General Mills deliberately ignored warnings from a dietitian that General Mills gluten-free testing was inferior.

    The case is Christopher Hamilton v. General Mills Inc. et al., case number 16-36004, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    Read more at Law360.com.


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    Guest Susan

    Posted

    If General Mills tested every batch of final product BEFORE sending it to stores, these boxes would not have made it into the hands of consumers. This is clearly a total failure in their process. Yet, they continue to ignore the very real danger to consumers by continuing to use this flawed testing process. If General Mills was honest about wanting to produce a gluten free product, they would have made changes so such a situation can never happen again. They have been secretive from the start.

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    Guest admin

    Posted

    If General Mills tested every batch of final product BEFORE sending it to stores, these boxes would not have made it into the hands of consumers. This is clearly a total failure in their process. Yet, they continue to ignore the very real danger to consumers by continuing to use this flawed testing process. If General Mills was honest about wanting to produce a gluten free product, they would have made changes so such a situation can never happen again. They have been secretive from the start.

    No company tests every box or package of everything they label "gluten-free," not even gluten-free certification organizations would require this, as the associated costs would make the price of the product astronomical.

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    True, no company tests every box but they should test every batch - especially if they have a new production line and/or a shared facility. This case is critical because if the courts don't take it seriously, other manufacturers will know there are no consequences to claiming "Gluten Free" erroneously in the future. When I've contacted other food companies in the past over various issues, they track by batches and they take action, they follow up. Now that I know General Mills doesn't take my health seriously, I can take my own actions by not buying their products. I certainly wouldn't give Cheerios to children with known gluten issues, given that GM treats it so casually. At a very bare minimum, simple training of their staff about what is required for gluten free manufacturing would have avoided the entire event. But again, they apparently don't take it seriously.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    True, no company tests every box but they should test every batch - especially if they have a new production line and/or a shared facility. This case is critical because if the courts don't take it seriously, other manufacturers will know there are no consequences to claiming "Gluten Free" erroneously in the future. When I've contacted other food companies in the past over various issues, they track by batches and they take action, they follow up. Now that I know General Mills doesn't take my health seriously, I can take my own actions by not buying their products. I certainly wouldn't give Cheerios to children with known gluten issues, given that GM treats it so casually. At a very bare minimum, simple training of their staff about what is required for gluten free manufacturing would have avoided the entire event. But again, they apparently don't take it seriously.

    With all of the people supposedly having gluten reactions to General Mills products, not one person has provided the batch info that is printed on every box of Cheerios. To date, no one we know of has confirmed reporting such information to the FDA, or to General Mills. This information would easily enable such cases to be verified or debunked. It's also possible that adverse reactions may be due to oat sensitivity, which affects about 8% of celiac sufferers. Until clear evidence is presented to the contrary, claims that General Mills knowingly disregards the health of people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance seem unsupported by the facts. Plenty of people with celiac disease have reported tolerating Cheerios just fine, though our own position is for individuals to exercise their own judgement in matters of their own health and diet.

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    Guest Harold

    Posted

    Whether or not GM knew or takes steps to remedy their processing of gluten-free grains, I'm not sure why anyone with celiac or gluten sensitivity would indulge in mass produced food products. After having been sick most of my life (thank you antibiotics), I've learned that even if everything checks out ok, there's always the chance that someone, somewhere, either believes gluten-free is psychosomatic or wants to do people harm, and will take steps to make it so. The more processed the food, the more hands that touch it, the higher the chance that something goes awry. If you're willing, or strong enough, to take that risk, more power to you, but I am not.

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    Guest Jeff Adams

    Posted

    Whether or not GM knew or takes steps to remedy their processing of gluten-free grains, I'm not sure why anyone with celiac or gluten sensitivity would indulge in mass produced food products. After having been sick most of my life (thank you antibiotics), I've learned that even if everything checks out ok, there's always the chance that someone, somewhere, either believes gluten-free is psychosomatic or wants to do people harm, and will take steps to make it so. The more processed the food, the more hands that touch it, the higher the chance that something goes awry. If you're willing, or strong enough, to take that risk, more power to you, but I am not.

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, eating minimally processed, whole foods is likely a smart nutritional practice. However, I would remind you that many of the gluten-free products that celiacs know, trust, and consume regularly would be considered "mass produced," so I´m not sure that mass production necessarily means more gluten-contamination.

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    Sources:
    1. Toft M, Dietrichs E. Aggravated stuttering following subthalamic deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease--two cases. BMC Neurol. 2011 Apr 8;11:44.
    2. Tani T, Sakai Y. Stuttering after right cerebellar infarction: a case study. J Fluency Disord. 2010 Jun;35(2):141-5. Epub 2010 Mar 15.
    3. Lundgren K, Helm-Estabrooks N, Klein R. Stuttering Following Acquired Brain Damage: A Review of the Literature. J Neurolinguistics. 2010 Sep 1;23(5):447-454.
    4. Jäncke L, Hänggi J, Steinmetz H. Morphological brain differences between adult stutterers and non-stutterers. BMC Neurol. 2004 Dec 10;4(1):23.
    5. Kell CA, Neumann K, von Kriegstein K, Posenenske C, von Gudenberg AW, Euler H, Giraud AL. How the brain repairs stuttering. Brain. 2009 Oct;132(Pt 10):2747-60. Epub 2009 Aug 26.
    6. Galantucci S, Tartaglia MC, Wilson SM, Henry ML, Filippi M, Agosta F, Dronkers NF, Henry RG, Ogar JM, Miller BL, Gorno-Tempini ML. White matter damage in primary progressive aphasias: a diffusion tensor tractography study. Brain. 2011 Jun 11.
    7. Lundgren K, Helm-Estabrooks N, Klein R. Stuttering Following Acquired Brain Damage: A Review of the Literature. J Neurolinguistics. 2010 Sep 1;23(5):447-454.
    8. [No authors listed] Case records of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Weekly clinicopathological exercises. Case 43-1988. A 52-year-old man with persistent watery diarrhea and aphasia. N Engl J Med. 1988 Oct 27;319(17):1139-48
    9. Molteni N, Bardella MT, Baldassarri AR, Bianchi PA. Celiac disease associated with epilepsy and intracranial calcifications: report of two patients. Am J Gastroenterol. 1988 Sep;83(9):992-4.
    10. http://ezinearticles.com/?Food-Allergy-and-Stuttering-Link&id=1235725 
    11. http://www.craig.copperleife.com/health/stuttering_allergies.htm 
    12. https://www.celiac.com/forums/topic/73362-any-help-is-appreciated/
    13. Ford RP. The gluten syndrome: a neurological disease. Med Hypotheses. 2009 Sep;73(3):438-40. Epub 2009 Apr 29.
    14. Hadjivassiliou M, Gibson A, Davies-Jones GA, Lobo AJ, Stephenson TJ, Milford-Ward A. Does cryptic gluten sensitivity play a part in neurological illness? Lancet. 1996 Feb 10;347(8998):369-71.

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    Source:
    Journal of Clinical Pathologyhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jclinpath-2018-205023