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Ont. court approves Ridley BSE settlement

Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice has approved feed maker Ridley’s $6 million settlement proposal to end its exposure to a proposed class-action suit brought by cattle producers over the arrival of BSE in the Canadian cattle herd.

The court on Wednesday gave its provisional approval to the February 2008 settlement agreement, subject to the company and the plaintiff settling concerns over who will run the trust fund that pays out this suit’s share of the $6 million, and over how that fund will operate.

“The court’s decision on Ridley’s settlement with the plaintiffs is a positive step towards resolution of this matter,” Ridley CEO Steve VanRoekel said in a release Thursday.

“We have managed with the uncertainty associated with this litigation for the last three years, but enabling the settlement to proceed will allow us to focus on our strategic objectives for Ridley.”

The proposed class-action suit — which, under the settlement agreement, would be certified as a class action — was one of four co-ordinated suits filed in four provinces after the discovery of Canada’s first BSE-positive cow in May 2003.

The suits, filed in April 2005 in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario, all named both Ridley and the federal government, claiming potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damages as a result of international bans on trade in Canadian beef. Negligence, the suits had alleged, led to contaminated feed that in turn infected the Alberta cow.

Other provinces

The Ontario suit, with Niagara Falls cattleman Bill Sauer as its representative plaintiff, is also meant to include cattlemen in Manitoba, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador as part of its “class.”

The Ontario court’s ruling follows a decision by the Superior Court of Quebec in May, approving the settlement in the Quebec suit, which had already been certified as a class action in June 2007, with cattleman Donald Berneche of St-Gabriel de Brandon as its representative plaintiff.

Ridley said Thursday that settlement notices will be submitted for approval before the Ontario and Quebec courts, after which the settlement class of cattle farmers in all provinces of Canada will be notified of the court approval and settlement and their right to opt out of the settlement. The settlement would then be finalized and Ridley would pay out its settlement funds, provided the number of class member opt-outs is below an agreed threshold.

As per the settlement agreement, Ridley made no admission of liability or wrongdoing and “will continue to contest any allegation it was responsible for the plaintiffs’ damages.”

The lawsuits in Alberta and Saskatchewan were stayed pending the results of the Ontario case. The Winnipeg-based feed company expects to remain involved in the suits even after its settlements are paid, as the suits are expected to continue with the federal government and unnamed federal bureaucrats as defendants.

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