Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor is filing a class action lawsuit against South African meat producer Tiger Brands after the South African Health Ministry confirmed the listeria outbreak started at one of its plants.

Spoor said that there was overwhelming evidence against the meat processor, although admitted proving causation for the estimated 1,000 cases of listeriosis could be challenging.

“Causation is the issue. In other words, can we link the 1,000-odd cases of listeriosis with them? Can we show that their specific case was caused by eating a contaminated product from the Polokwane factory?” he commented.

Providing evidence could prove tricky, according to the lawyer, since the delayed symptoms of listeriosis meant that victims ate other food products before falling ill.

“And Tiger Brands is counting on us being unable to demonstrate that the actual foodstuff that caused them to become sick was a product from their factory,” he added.

Tiger Brands denied responsibility for the listeria outbreak, which resulted in 180 fatalities since January 2017.

The South African Health Ministry shut down two meat processing plants last week, after detecting two strains of the listeria bacterium, and ordered Tiger Brands to recall its ready-to-eat meat products.

In response to the discovery, Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence MacDougall made note of the lack of evidence linking listeriosis to the company’s food products, saying:

“There has been no direct correlation between our products and the deaths yet, so we are unaware of any direct link. Listen, I cannot guess as to what the link might be, and all I can confirm at the moment is that there is no link. So there are no links directly [related] to the deaths.”

MacDougall added that Tiger Brands’ facilities exceeded South African health and safety requirements and conformed to European standards. He also suggested that levels of contamination fell short of the threshold set by internal health regulations.

Spoor remarked, however, that there was strong evidence to show that Tiger Brands was to blame:

“91% of the samples of the people who were sick corresponds exactly with the specific genetic makeup of the bacteria that was found at the Polokwane factory .Then we have the distribution pattern of the diseases which mirrors the distribution pattern of their products.”

Last week, New South Wales Health reported the deaths of four people from a listeria outbreak in Australia, originating from the rockmelon fruit.

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