Ten D.C.-area residents seeking lactose intolerance warnings on milk cartons will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn an unfavorable ruling by the U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was filed October 6, 2005, by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) because many people are unaware that milk may cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms. The defendants, including Giant Food and Safeway, do not deny that lactose intolerance is a painful consequence of drinking milk, but have argued that warning consumers would cause a decline in sales.

“The dairy industry has an obligation to warn consumers that milk can make them painfully sick,” says Dan Kinburn, Esq., associate general counsel for PCRM. “We believe the appeals court will overturn this anti-consumer ruling to protect the health of thousands of District residents who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.”

The plaintiffs argue that many people are not aware they are lactose intolerant and unwittingly buy milk, only to suffer side effects after drinking it. Lactose intolerance is the biological norm and mainly affects people of color. But because the condition comes on gradually and can start at any age, many individuals have no idea that milk is the culprit in their painful symptoms.

Lactose intolerance is caused by the loss of the enzymes that digest the milk sugar lactose, a normal process that occurs after the age of weaning. For those who are lactose intolerant, drinking milk can result in abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other painful gastrointestinal symptoms. Approximately 75 percent of the world’s population “including 60 to 80 percent of African-Americans, 50 to 80 percent of Latinos, and at least 90 percent of Asian-Americans and Native Americans” is lactose intolerant.

The lawsuit was filed by Milton Mills, M.D., an African-American physician, and nine others who are suing on behalf of all D.C. residents who are lactose intolerant and not aware of it.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. PCRM also conducts clinical research studies, opposes unethical human experimentation, and promotes alternatives to animal research.

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