More than ten years after two infants died and dozens suffered nervous-system damage after consuming nutrition-deficient Remedia baby formula, the verdict is in: On Wednesday morning the courts found a technologist guilty of negligent homicide but let the executive echelon off the hook.
Food technologist Frederick Black was convicted of causing death through negligence and of actions liable to spread disease.
Remedia's CEO at the time of the scandal, Gideon Landsberger, was acquitted of negligent homicide and other charges, among them injury through negligence, obstruction of justice, an act liable to spread disease and more – but was convicted of the lesser offense of violating standards.
Moshe Miller, who had been on the Remedia board of directors, was cleared on all charges.
Judge Lea Lev On of the Petah Tikva Magistrates Court explained while reading her ruling that "all agree" the main burden of guilt for the tragedy lies with Humana – the German company that actually manufactured the baby formula in question, which had been marketed in Israel by Remedia.
Humana had been guilty of a series of "grave failures," the judge said. However, whatever Humana had done, that did not detract from the defendants' responsibility to market safe food, Lev On said.
Some parents said they feel let down by the court deflecting the blame to Humana, and absolving the Remedia defendants.
"I bought Remedia, not Humana," commented Michal Zisser, mother of Avishai Zisser who died after consuming the formula, after the acquittal of Remedia CEO Landsberger. "I don't think it can be argued that he wasn't part of the professional aspect. I can somehow understand that Miller wasn't involved."
Made in Germany
The problem had been with non-dairy, soy-based formula manufactured by Humana and sold by Remedia, after Humana tweaked the manufacturing process - leaving out an essential vitamin, thiamine – better known as B1.
“No one from the Remedia company asked Humana to remove the thiamine from the mix of vitamins and its removal was not approved by them," the judge noted. "The decision was taken at the product development department at the Humana company without consulting other elements within Humana or at Remedia.”
In short, she summed up, Remedia had not been involved in the process that wound up removing Vitamin B1 from the formula at Humana.
"Representatives of Remedia and of Humana never held any meeting at which the removal of the vitamin was discussed. Remedia CEO Mr. Gidi Landsberger never participated in such a meeting or correspondence about removing the vitamin. The decision not to add vitamin B1 did not stem from any economic consideration. Its removal led to a very trivial reduction of about 100 euros in the production costs. The Humana company’s supplier of vitamins corroborated their unusual request with Humana representatives and the Humana representatives confirmed [to the supplier] that it was a conscious and intentional request.”
The extraction of the vitamin from the production process had not been brought before the Remedia people, Lev On summed up.
The scandal exploded in November 2003, when two babies died and 23 more were hospitalized with severe – and irreversible - damage to their nervous systems and hearts after having been fed Remedia non-dairy vegetarian formula that didn't have vitamin B1, an essential ingredient for development.
The three men accused in the trial were the food technician Black, Remedia's CEO at the time, Gideon Landsberger, and Moshe Miller, CEO and shareholder of the Remedia's holding company at the time, Heinz Israel. They were charged with negligent homicide, causing injury through negligence and other charges.
Health Ministry inspectors didn't inspect
In June 2011 the Petah Tikva Magistrates Court approved a plea bargain for five Health Ministry officials charged with committing “an act liable to spread disease” in the context of the affair. The five were sentenced to community service, for failing to do their jobs properly. If they had, they'd have realized the actual formula didn't comply with its labeling.
Dr. Dorit Nitzan-Kaluski, head of the National Food Service, was sentenced to 500 hours of service. Four Health Ministry inspectors were each sentenced to 400 hours of service in non-governmental medical institutions.
The infants fed thiamine-deficient diets were afflicted with beriberi. Guy Goldman and Avishai Zisser – died of the condition and 23 other babies needed varying periods of hospitalization.In January 2010 another little girl, Inbar Shova, died. She had been in an vegetative state since 2005.
The charges against the officials were for negligence in failing to carry out inspections that would have found the Remedia formula diverged from its labeling.
Dr. Kaluski was accused of not having confirmed that the inspectors at the quarantine station had carried out the required national food service procedures.
"The court has spoken," said Miller after his acquittal. "The ruling speaks for itself. I wasn't involved and it's been proven. The families never leave my heart. I think about it every day." Black and Landsberger refused to comment.
Aviva Mantsur, mother of an infant injured by the formula, said after the ruling yesterday that any punishment that might have been handed down would have paled into insignificance compared with the suffering of her daughter. "I want to believe that they really did investigate and bring the truth to light."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now