Legal settlement reached in tainted pet food case

NEW YORK Fri May 23, 2008 3:11pm BST

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NEW YORK May 23 (Reuters) - Several companies have agreed to pay a combined $24 million to pet owners to resolve lawsuits over contaminated pet food linked to the illness and death of animals, according to court papers.

The settlement involving Canada-based Menu Foods Income Fund MEW_u.TO and other pet food manufacturers and suppliers was outlined in documents filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey on Thursday.

The pact still requires court approval. An agreement in principle to settle the case had been announced in April, and lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendants said in the new court papers that a settlement had now been reached.

Consumers in the United States and Canada filed more than 100 lawsuits against multiple pet food makers after a massive recall of tainted pet food and treats last year.

The recall, first announced in March 2007, was tied to contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China. It was the biggest pet food recall ever, involving more than 150 brands of dog and cat food. Owners contend the tainted ingredients were responsible for sickening or killing hundreds of dogs and cats in North America.

The settlement is separate from the $8 million already paid to pet owners by some of the companies or their insurers.

Under the settlement, the companies will pay all of pet owners' documented expenses for the injury and death of their pets as a result of consuming the recalled products.

Owners without documentation of their expenses are eligible to receive payments of up to $900. Any settlement funds remaining after the payment of claims will be given to animal-welfare charities.

A court hearing was set for May 30 before U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman in Camden, New Jersey, on approval of the pact. (Reporting by Martha Graybow; Editing by Derek Caney)

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