Woman couldn't lick her liquoricehabit, sues candy company
16 April 2004 ,
16 April 2004
BONN - A court in Germany is expected to hand down a landmark ruling on Monday on whether a major European confectionery company must pay damages to a woman says she developed a heart condition because she could not lick her liquorice habit.
In a case that has sparked a national debate in Germany, the Berlin resident is demanding about EUR 10,000 in damages from the Bonn-based Haribo corporation, saying the company's salty-sweet liquorice sweets contributed to her medical condition.
The 48-year-old woman, identified only as Margit K., says she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with an erratic heartbeat after she had consumed 400 grams of Haribo brand Matador assorted liquorice treats daily over a four-month period.
She says she required six months of medical care, during which time she was unable to work.
"We have very good prospects for winning our case," her attorney, Jens Scharnhoop, told Berlin's B.Z. newspaper.
"She lost consciousness twice and spent three weeks in hospital being treated for ventricular arrhythmia and hypertension and was written off sick for half a year," he added. "She was in a really serious condition."
The plaintiff alleges Haribo should have warned consumers of the potential hazards of over-indulgence in liquorice.
Derived from liquorice root, liquorice sweets contain glycyrrhizine which, in large quantities over a long time, can lead to water retention with a loss of potassium and sodium.
Longterm imbalances of those trace elements can in some cases exacerbate a predisposition to high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat.
Haribo, best known as the manufacturer of PEZ candies and fruit gum Gummi Bears, marketed in some countries as Golden Bears, issued a statement saying the civil lawsuit was frivolous.
The company said the plaintiff was unable to prove any direct cause-and-effect link between its product and her medical condition.
"Anyone who believes they could possibly win this case must be a little off," Haribo legal consultant Ulrich Preusser said. "Our liquorice sweets are acknowledged to be absolutely premium products of the highest quality."
Haribo said the glycyrrhizine content of its liquorice candies was between 0.08 and 0.18 percent, and thus below the legal maximum of 0.2 percent which would require a health warning.
"Products with glycyrrhizine levels exceeding 0.2 percent may be potentially hazardous to persons who have an existing heart condition or who have a predisposition to cardio-vascular disease," says Grit Grohmann of German's Federal Institute for Consumer Health Issues.
Haribo insists its products all more than meet all federal health- safety requirements.
"We are meticulous in maintaining those levels," Preusser said. "We are 100 percent certain that this case will be thrown out."
The two sides failed to reach an out-of-court settlement in March. Now Judge Paul Wagner of the 9th Civil Chamber of Bonn State Court is expected to hand down a ruling in the case on Monday.
The case has comes amid a national debate in Germany over fast- food. German health officials recently released a study showing nearly half of all German schoolchildren are overweight and consume too much junk food.
Suddenly TV talk shows are full of medical experts talking about cardiac arrhythmia and hypertension and glycyrrhizine's effects on potassium and sodium levels in the bloodstream.
"It is a medical fact that over-indulgence in liquorice can result in an erratic heartbeat and, over the longterm, to elevated blood pressure," says Dr. Dietrich Andresen of Berlin's Vivantes Hospital.
He stipulated that healthy people have little to worry about, but that overweight, middle-aged consumers should be wary of eating too much liquorice.
"At any rate, you really ought not to eat more than 50 grams of liquorice per day," Andresen said.
On the other hand, liquorice root, or Glycyrrhiza glabra, has been used for 4,000 years to treat stomach discomfort, making it one of the most widely used medicinal herbs in history.
Liquorice flavinoids, generally marketed as liquorice root extracts, are commonly sold in health stores as a soothing and natural remedy against heartburn, acid-indigestion and peptic ulcers.
A family firm, Haribo was founded in 1920 by Hans Riegel in Bonn, hence the acronym HA-RI-BO. One of the world's largest confectionery corporations, fruit gums, liquorice and candy foam are the most important product sectors.
Today, the Haribo Group includes a whole series of renowned brand names, including MAOAM and PEZ, all marketed under the slogan, "Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo".
Subject: German news