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D.C. Residents, Group to Appeal Court Ruling on Milk Warning Labels

WASHINGTON -- Ten D.C.-area residents who want lactose intolerance warnings on milk cartons said Friday that they plan to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn an unfavorable ruling by the U.S. District Court. The residents and nonprofit advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which claims that many people don't know that milk could cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, originally filed the class action last October. Defendants named in the suit, including major Washington supermarkets Giant Food and Safeway, have argued that warning labels would lead to sales declines.

"The dairy industry has an obligation to warn consumers that milk can make them painfully sick," said Dan Kinburn, associate general counsel for PCRM, in a statement. "We believe the appeals court will overturn this anti-consumer ruling to protect the health of thousands of District residents who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk."

According to the plaintiffs, many people aren't aware they are lactose intolerant and thereby purchase milk, only to incur side effects after drinking it. Lactose intolerance chiefly affects people of color, but because the onset of the condition is gradual and can begin at any age, many consumers have no idea that milk is causing their symptoms.

Lactose intolerance is caused by the lack of the enzymes that digest the milk sugar lactose, a normal process that occurs after the age of weaning, People with the condition suffer abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other painful gastrointestinal symptoms when they consume milk products. About 75 percent of the world's population, among them 60 percent to 80 percent of African-Americans, 50 percent to 80 percent of Hispanics, and at least 90 percent of Asian-Americans and Native Americans, suffer from lactose intolerance.

The 10 Washington-area residents include Milton Mills, an African-American doctor. The plaintiffs are suing on behalf of all D.C. residents who are lactose-intolerant and unaware of it.
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