- The Supreme Court of Appeal has overturned subpoenas with which Tiger Brands wanted to secure evidence around listeria testing in South Africa.
- Tiger is defending a class action that blames it for some of the more than 200 deaths authorities found were caused by products from its Enterprise factory.
- The company seems to be looking for "a basis on which to pin co-liability on another party", says the court.
- But that won't help it – and it has already absolved its own meat suppliers too.
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Tiger Brands seems to be hoping it can show that other companies have been responsible for potentially deadly food poisoning in South Africa, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) said – but that won't help it.
In fact, Tiger has already absolved its own meat suppliers from responsibility.
The SCA last week ruled against Tiger Brands, with costs, on a set of subpoenas now nearly three years old, served on meat suppliers and laboratories as Tiger seeks to defend a class action by those affected by listeria poisoning.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases traced an outbreak of listeriosis to Tiger's Enterprise polony factory in Polokwane, and the company has since admitted its own tests showed the presence of the ST6 listeria strain, identified in the outbreak, in its products.
More than 200 people died in the outbreak, not counting miscarriages.
Tiger issued subpoenas demanding a huge amount of detail on listeria testing across South Africa, including for the likes of the owner of Steers and Wimpy – and including tests for bacteria that are not harmful to humans. The company later admitted it had framed those subpoenas too broadly, and slimmed down its requests. But the companies targeted, and some of their clients, said Tiger was still asking for information to which it was not entitled.
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed, with no sympathy towards Tiger's apparent approach that, even if it did poison its customers, it wasn't necessarily the "sole source" of listeria contamination.
"It seems to hope that in the midst of all the test results it requires, it would find a basis on which to pin co-liability on another party," said the court of the "entirely speculative" attempt.
But the class action the company is defending will require those injured (or their families, in the case of the dead and unborn) to show they were harmed by eating contaminated food from the Polokwane factory, said the SCA.
"It is therefore irrelevant for purposes of the class action, whether other persons may have been harmed by the consumption of products manufactured by anyone other than Tiger Brands through its Polokwane facility... there is no merit in Tiger Brands’ assertion that there is a need to obtain evidence to establish whether there are alternative sources of contamination".
Nor, said the court, would it help Tiger to go looking for the source of the listeria among those who supply it with raw meat. Once meat is heated to 75 degrees Celsius, there is no listeriosis risk. Tiger Brands specifically denies that it had failed to properly cook its polony, which "negates the hypotheses" that the company may have only "passed through" infection, said the SCA.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)