Judge rules against workers in ‘popcorn-lung’ lawsuit

A federal judge Wednesday ruled against 27 workers who claimed they suffered respiratory injuries from exposure to a microwave popcorn butter flavor ingredient that has been linked to lung disease in the manufacturing process.

Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted summary judgment to Givaudan Flavors Corp. on the final remaining claim in a suit brought in February 2014 in the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The plaintiffs claimed they suffered respiratory injuries from exposure to the flavoring ingredient diacetyl while working at the ConAgra Snack Foods Group plant in Rensselaer.

Barker previously ruled for Givaudan, leaving only the plaintiffs’ complaint of defective product design remaining in the case. Her ruling Wednesday on that issue likewise found for Givaudan, which supplied the diacetyl-containing ingredient to the ConAgra plant.

“Plaintiffs provide no expert testimony on the costs and benefits of a diacetyl-free butter flavor or that the diacetyl-free butter flavors that existed prior to 2007 were cost-effective alternatives under general negligence principles,” Barker wrote in Gregory Aregood Jr., et al. v. Givaudan Flavors Corp., et al., 1:14-cv-00274. “… The costs and benefits of diacetyl-free butter flavors, or their cost effectiveness, is not common knowledge. Further, the fact that a diacetyl-free alternative existed is not enough; Plaintiffs must present evidence that the diacetyl-free butter flavors’ risks, benefits, and costs were favorable.”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current scientific evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease. Other flavoring ingredients may also play a role.

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