Former technologist convicted in baby formula case

Court convicts former technologist of negligent homicide, mostly acquits CEO, owner in Remedia baby formula affair.

Twin babies sleeping 390 (R) (photo credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)
Twin babies sleeping 390 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)
The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday convicted former Remedia top technologist Frederick Black of negligent homicide, acquitted former CEO Gideon Landsberger of negligent homicide, while convicting him of a minor crime, and fully acquitted former owner Moshe Miller in the 2003 Remedia baby formula affair.
The three officials were indicted in 2008 and were all accused of negligent homicide and committing acts likely to cause disease, as well as other crimes.
The court called the affair “a horrible and disgraceful disaster, which evolved into a tragedy.”
The partial conviction and partial acquittals are at best a mixed result for the families of the three babies who died and the around 20 babies who suffered serious harm caused by the fact that Remedia’s revised vegetarian formula did not include Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), even though the cans stated that they did.
Remedia received the formula from a German-based company called Humana Milchunion, which makes baby food.
In mostly acquitting Landsberger and fully acquitting Miller, the court placed most of the responsibility on Humana.
The court ruled that Remedia was not in on the decision to omit Vitamin B1, and only convicted Black of negligent homicide because he was the top science professional who, according to the court, was negligent in not uncovering the issue.
Michal Zisser, whose baby died due to the baby formula, reacted to the result in which most of the responsibility was placed on Humana and not Remedia, stating, “This is ridiculous, because basically I bought from Remedia, not from Humana.”
Eli Olnobsky, another parent of a baby who died, responded to the ruling: “It [Remedia] had no hand in it? It did! They did not get what they deserved. There is no justice.”
The body uses Vitamin B1 to break down sugars, releasing energy into the cells.
Vitamin B1 deficiency reduces the amount of energy available and can harm bodily systems, particularly the central nervous system.
Vitamin B1 also prevents concentrations of lactic acid.
Without it, too much acid accumulates in the body, which affects the baby’s sense of balance.
Damage to the central nervous system leads to neuropathological symptoms including sleepiness, slowness, depression, lack of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.
In a dramatic moment, the court read out the names of each of the victims, their dates of birth and the dates of death for the babies who died.
The court said, “These gentle ones, victims, innocent, and the families in their perpetual suffering will always be before our eyes and fill all human beings with deep sadness.”
Judge Lia Lev also said, however, that in deciding the fates of the three defendants, she was bound by the contours of the criminal law and what had or had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Regarding Black, the court said that he had the overall responsibility and ability to check into the issues relating to the Vitamin B1 deficiency in light of changes he knew were taking place regarding the baby formula and negligently failed to do so, leaving the victims exposed and doomed to their fate.
In contrast, the court found that the other two officials had no idea or warning about the changes to the baby formula and had relied on Black and other science professionals to advise them on such issues.
In 2011, five Health Ministry officials plead guilty to negligence with the likelihood of causing a disease, but without a formal criminal conviction to go on their records, for failing to properly supervise and report to the public on the problems associated with the Remedia formula.
The five were sentenced to community service.
The ministry employees were Dr. Dorit Nitzan-Klosky, sentenced to 500 hours, who was in charge of the National Food Service at the time of the affair, and four supervisors at the Ashdod and Haifa ports, whose job it was to examine food imports, sentenced to 400 hours each.
As recently as January 2012, the Health Ministry was still being criticized for faulty oversight of certain pharmaceutical companies and their drugs.
Subsequent to the criticism, the Health Ministry announced that it would establish a website to receive reports of side effects from another drug, Eltroxin, the drug for hypothyroidism that an independent investigative committee found underwent changes in its composition and caused side effects in some 800 Israelis.