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Alta-Dena's Suit Against Critic Is Dismissed

February 27, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

A defamation suit filed by Alta-Dena Certified Dairies against its leading critic was dismissed without comment recently by a Marin County Superior Court judge.

The City of Industry-based firm originally sought $110 million in damages from Dr. John C. Bolton, a San Francisco pediatrician, for what the dairy said were slanderous statements made by the physician during a number of public appearances.

Bolton, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, has frequently testified in favor of legislation that would either ban the sale of raw milk or require that manufacturers include a warning label on the packaging stating that certain groups may be at risk in consuming the non-pasteurized product.

An example of the alleged slanderous conduct, according to the complaint originally filed by the dairy's attorney, was a newspaper quote attributed to Bolton that called the chronic salmonella contaminations of raw milk a "toxic waste problem."

20 Recalls in Two Decades

There have been more than 20 statewide recalls of Alta-Dena raw certified milk during the last two decades because laboratory tests discovered the presence of salmonella bacteria. Certain strains of salmonella are particularly harmful and known to cause diarrhea, fever and nausea. The bacteria can be fatal for some susceptible groups, such as infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, including cancer and AIDS patients.

"I felt all along that this was a pure harassment suit," Bolton said in a telephone interview. "I feel that I've been vindicated and will continue to work to try and get some appropriate warnings on all raw milk for consumers."

An Alta-Dena spokesman said the company was disappointed with Judge Henry Broderick's decision.

"The case was thrown out, not because what (Bolton) said was accurate, but rather because he had a right to say it," said Rob Bryant of Alta-Dena.

The dairy's attorney, Raymond A. Novell, said that no decision had yet been made on whether to appeal the superior court's action.

"(The judge felt) that with a public controversy (that) there can be a vigorous discussion of the issue," Novell said. "But that's not a license to defame someone maliciously."

The dismissal apparently turned on the question of malice. In order for the trial to proceed, the dairy had to prove, among other things, that Bolton made the allegedly slanderous statements with a "reckless disregard for the truth" or that he knowingly spoke falsehoods.

After a lengthy courtroom discussion of the malice issue, the judge dismissed the case. Despite the recent setback, Novell said he will recommend that Alta-Dena appeal the decision.

Attacking the Source--Congressional budget debates frequently get around to discussing what can be done to limit the amount of tax dollars spent on federal health programs such as Medicare. Solutions prove elusive because of the seemingly unavoidable increases in hospital costs and physician fees.

What shapes up as a revolutionary rethinking of the government's approach to health care comes in the form of a bill making its way through the U.S. Senate. Recent legislation introduced in the Capitol's upper chamber aims at cutting medical expenses by keeping people healthy in the first place rather than simply treating them when ill.

The bill seeks the formation of a National Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. The group would recommend to the President various ways the public could reduce the risk of illness through life-style changes.

The legislation is co-sponsored by senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). The advisory body would be patterned after the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

The proposal hopes to minimize expenditures by having the council seek out only those measures that could be undertaken jointly by government and the private sector.

Temperance Drops Pounds--If the Kennedy-sponsored health council ever gets under way, then one document it might find helpful is a recent report which chronicles the condition of former heavy drinkers.

Tavia Gordon and Dr. Joseph T. Doyle report in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine that an 18-year study of 1,910 men found that those who had stopped drinking alcohol had lost weight and experienced below-average increases in blood pressure.

The survey, initiated in 1953, also found that those who drank more over the course of the research generally reported greater cigarette usage, higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than did those who either stopped drinking or kept consumption fairly level.

Somewhat surprisingly, the "average" participant in the study was drinking twice as much alcohol on the recent follow-up than when the project was initiated, the researchers found.

Lingering Aftermath--The recent winter storms have done more than make life a little dreary for commuters. Last week's harsh weather has seriously impacted a number of produce items, thus causing supplies to tighten and prices to rise.

Hardest hit are strawberries. Mud, along with on-and-off rains, have prevented growers from entering the fields to harvest those berries now ready for market, according to the Fresh Produce Council. The weather has interrupted what promised to be one of the state's largest strawberry harvests in years.

The same is true of artichokes and asparagus. The damage will be particularly noticeable on those artichokes coming to market in the next few weeks, and consumers are likely to see the vegetable's exterior leaves discolored. However, the damage does not affect eating quality, the council reports.

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