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The trial of eight defendants charged in connection with the distribution in 2003 of defective baby formula has been suspended until March 2009. Yesterday, the first day of the trial of three company and five state officials, Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court Judge Lia Lev On accepted the defense team's argument that it needed more time to study the evidence collected during the investigation. The defense had asked for a continuance until the fall of 2009.

In November 2003, two infants died and 23 were adversely affected after ingesting Remedia formula that did not contain Vitamin B1 (thiamine), an essential nutrient, although its presence was stated on the product label.

In May three senior company officials were charged with negligence resulting in death and negligence resulting in physical harm, as well as with "actions liable to spread disease," with aggravated misleading of consumers and with obstruction of justice. Five Health Ministry employees were charged with "actions liable to spread disease."

Representing the state in the case are three Central District prosecutors. One of them, Or Mamon, told Haaretz yesterday that the charges are "serious." He said the court acted appropriately when it decided to accelerate the pace of its work on the case, which is complex and requires organization on the part of the defense. "The families have rights as victims in the case but they are not a party to it. We will be in touch with the families," Mamon said.

Attending yesterday's court session were the parents of children who suffered from the defective formula. Some were forced to wait outside the courtroom, which was filled.

"After five years of carrying this pain, five more months won't make a difference," said Michal Zisser, whose son Avishay died at the age of two months after feeding on the formula. "The defendants tried to look me in the eyes. I tried, too. Maybe they are feeling pain, but there's no doubt that there is one truth: They have a hiatus between court appearances, and we don't. We are always with this pain, which will never go away," Zisser said.

"Today's hearing takes me back five years," said Aviva Haibee, whose daughter Noa, now five, cannot breathe unassisted and communicates with her eyes only, due to the damage caused by Remedia.

"My Noa will never marry or go to first grade. She's been in prison for five years already, hooked up to a respirator and fighting for every drop of air. Nothing will return my child to me healthy, I'm not looking for revenge, and I know their actions weren't intentional but we as a society must have a trial because there was negligence," Haibee said.

"I'd like for the defendants to go to a rehabilitation ward - let them see how my daughter and other children live. When I gave my daughter their food, I trusted them and knew I was giving her the best. We are constantly taking her from one hospital to another, our entire lives have been screwed up."

The defendants

Frederick Black Former food technologist and head of quality control and research and development at Remedia Marketing and Remedia Industries.

Gideon Landsberger CEO, Remedia Marketing and Remedia Industries from 1999.

Moshe Miller CEO of Heinz Israel and board member for subsidiaries including Remedia Marketing and Remedia Industries.

According to the indictment, the three maintained "total and blind faith" in the formula manufacturer, Humana of Germany. Remedia was aware of the discrepancy between the amount of vitamins indicated on the formula label and the actual amounts in 2001. In late 2002 Humana decided not to include thiamine in the soy-based version of the formula and informed Remedia of this in 2003, but Black and Landsberger did not change the labeling.

The following Health Ministry officials were charged with actions liable to spread disease: Dr. Dorit Nitzan Kalusky was in charge of inspecting food imported through Israel's ports. Nasreen Khouri, Yosef Haskel, Berta Shvum and Raisa Parvarov Inspectors at the quarantine facilities in the Haifa and Ashdod ports.