McGraw settles with vitamin companies

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 28, 2010


CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw on Tuesday announced a settlement of antitrust charges against 11 vitamin companies, with nearly $200,000 in windfalls going to non-profit health centers and dental clinics in the state.

The settlement resolves a decade-long, multi-state lawsuit that was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of purchasers of vitamin products against 11 European and Asian drug companies.

The suit, brought by 21 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, claimed the firms violated state and federal laws in an international scheme to fix prices and allocate sales of vitamins and vitamin products.

According to McGraw's office, these vitamins are used in products including pills, milk, cereal, bread and feed for chicken, beef and fish.

The court ordered that funds from West Virginia's share of the award, $197,413.82, be used for non-profit or charitable organizations with the express purpose of improving the health and/or nutrition of citizens.

Consistent with the mandate, ceremonies were held Tuesday in Beckley and Charleston, and two checks for $88,836.22 each were given to the West Virginia Association of Free Clinics and the Kanawha County Dental Health Council.

The dental health council operates seven in-school clinics that provide dental care for school students. The free clinics association has sites in Charleston, Huntington and West Milford in Harrison County.

"Some adult West Virginians moving back into the workforce will have free dental care available as a result of the monies collected in this final case in a series of cases involving price-fixing schemes in the international sale of certain vitamins," McGraw said in a statement.

"These settlements should provide incentive to all businesses to steer clear of price-fixing deals."

The 11 companies named in the antitrust agreement are: Akzo Nobel, Inc.; Chinook; Degussa; Lonza AG; Merck, Mitsui; Nepera, Inc.; Reilly; Sumitomo; Tanabe; and UCB Pharma, Inc.

In agreeing to the settlement, the vitamin companies admitted no wrong-doing, McGraw's office said.

The issue was first taken to court in 2000. At the time, the states settled price-fixing allegations against more than half a dozen companies involved in the sale of vitamins internationally for $187 million.

The defendants in the settlement announced Tuesday will pay a total of about $25 million.

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