By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
GOSHEN – A Tulare County feed producer has agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit over contaminated product that killed or severely injured 50 horses in the Central Valley.
“Western Milling has yet to apologize to plaintiffs regarding this terrible tragedy, but has agreed to pay $2.4 Million in damages to the plaintiffs,” said Warren Paboojian, whose firm Baradat & Paboojian, Inc. represented the horse owners.
On Oct. 29, Paboojian announced that O.H. Kruse Grain & Milling, formerly Western Milling, agreed to the settlement on Oct. 26, the first day of trial in the case. Black Fence Farms, which is owned by Katie Flanigan, along with 37 other plaintiffs sued Western Milling on June 10, 2016 for their manufacturing and distributing of poisonous feed that the plaintiffs purchased and fed to their horses. The horse feed killed 21 horses and severely sickened 28 others, from which the horses will never recover.
“They dragged these people through the system for three years,” said Warren Paboojian.
In September 2015, Western Milling manufactured, packaged and distributed horse feed known as Western Blend Horse Feed, Lot 5251. The feed was contaminated with Monensin, a livestock drug that when fed to horses is known to be fatal. Known as an ionophore, the drug-laced feed resulted in a number of deaths. In 2016 the Goshen facility improperly mixed the same livestock drug into medicated cattle feed, which contributed to the deaths of several dairy calves.
According to the FDA, clinical signs of ionophore poisoning in horses vary depending on the dosage ingested, but can include poor appetite and feed refusal of the grain product, diarrhea, weakness, rapid heart rate, labored breathing, decreased exercise tolerance, depression, wobbly gait, colic, sweating, recumbency, and sudden death.
The first clinical signs are often noted from 12 to 72 hours after ingesting a toxic dose and the clinical signs may linger up to about 8 days. Permanent cardiac damage is possible in horses which showed adverse effects, but then recovered.
Western Milling voluntarily recalled 1,100 of the 50-pound bags of Western Blend horse feed on Sept. 8, 2015 after it learned that an ingredient in the feed in question may contain the drug. The recalled feed was distributed to stores in California and Arizona.
The California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Feed and Livestock Drugs Inspection Program is responsible for the enforcement of the state law and regulations pertinent to the manufacturing, distribution, and labeling of commercial livestock feed in California while preventing adulterated feed from being consumed by livestock. The program maintains registration of livestock drugs, their proper use and safe handling procedures, and issues Restricted Livestock Drug Licenses to retail stores selling restricted livestock drugs in California.
In 2016, the CDFA instituted proceedings to revoke Western Milling’s commercial feed license for repeated and multiple violations of the Food & Agriculture Code. The matter was ultimately resolved in February 2017, when Western Milling agreed to pay a fine $526,500 to CDFA and was required by the agency to implement $200,000 of new equipment in the Goshen facility to ensure that feed safety measures over and above industry standards will be met. Western Milling also agreed to cease all manufacturing of horse feed at its Goshen facility no later than April 15, 2017.
After shutting down its production and outsourcing the manufacturing of its horse feed, Western Milling President Kevin Kruse announced in December 2017 that the feed company had begun construction of a new, $5.5 million horse feed mill across the railroad tracks from its current facility in Goshen. The new facility was tentatively scheduled to open earlier this year but O.H. Kruse Grain and Milling, the ownership group for Western Milling, did not return phone calls as of press time.