Melamine fines offer cautionary tale

ChemNutra, a pet food supplier, and principals Sally and Steve Miller are paying $35,000 in fines after pleading guilty to misdemeanor violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The fines follow the melamine-contaminated pet food case dating back to 2006 that led to the sickening and deaths of dogs and cats.

"A company can face criminal liability if it was part of a chain of commerce that led to the distribution of a misbranded or adulterated product," says Robert Becerra of the Miami law firm Fuerst Humphrey Ittlemen PL. Becerra provided representation in the case.

"Under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a company can have no knowledge of the adulteration or misbranding of the product but still be held criminally liable, as was the case here," he says.

ChemNutra sold the contaminated gluten to U.S. pet food manufacturers. The gluten was mixed into their products.

Former ChemNutra CEO Steve Miller says there was never any criminal knowledge or intent on the company's part, and "the U.S. government realized that very early on. We used the best safety procedures in the industry at the time. We were caught up in the fraud perpetrated by an unscrupulous Chinese manufacturer."

The Justice Department maintains the company should have known about the activities of the Chinese manufacturer and partners to evade inspection of the gluten by Chinese authorities. "We believe that was impossible to know," says Miller.

- here's the press release