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Dannon could settle probiotic claims challenge out-of-court

By Shane Starling , 07-Apr-2009

Dannon, the US arm of French dairy giant Danone, is settling class actions mounted against it for making false and misleading probiotic health claims, according to press reports.

A story in the trade publication, Adweek, quoted a Dannon lawyer saying Dannon and the parties to various class actions had reached an out-of-court agreement.

However Dannon spokesperson, Michael Neuwirth told NutraIngredients-USA.com that “we stand by our claims and will continue to defend them” but refused to deny that Dannon was settling out-of-court in class actions that sought at least $300m.

See you out of court?

According to Adweek, Dannon, on March 31, asked a court to stay a pending complaint against its probiotic products including Activia, Activia Lite and DanActive.

"The parties to this and other similar cases have reached a tentative nationwide class-action settlement contingent upon the occurrence of several events," David Ackerman of law firm Bingham McCutchen, which represents Dannon, said in a court filing.

Neuwirth said the key part of this statement was: “contingent upon the occurrence of several events” but did not reveal what those "events" were.

Dannon has stated since the first class action was mounted in a Los Angeles federal court in January, 2008, that its claims were backed by good science and that it would stand by them.

That action sought reimbursement for all US purchasers of Dannon probiotic products and demanded Dannon engage in "a corrective advertising campaign" in regard to claims about digestive health, regularity and immunity.

The plaintiff in that case, an LA resident named Patricia Wiener, was represented by Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, the firm that won $7bn for Enron shareholders in another class action.

At the time, Dannon stated: "The filed complaint does not contain any support for the broad generalisations made in the lawsuit. The one publication cited in the lawsuit does not disprove Dannon's scientific substantiation for its proven product benefits. Indeed, the report cited in the lawsuit, published by the American Academy of Microbiology, does not even reference any Dannon products."

Since Wiener filed last year others have followed in Ohio, Florida, Arkansas and New Jersey.

According to Adweek, the government has also been looking into Dannon’s claims although it did not specify which branch of government that was. At least from the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission, there has been little noise about any such investigation.

For more articles in this series, click here .

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