Blog: Katy AskewConAgra fined for... lead in paint?

Katy Askew | 17 December 2013

ConAgra Foods has been ordered to contribute to a damages payment totalling US$1.1bn to replace lead paint in millions of homes in California.

The link between ConAgra, which is best known for grocery brands including Healthy Choice and Chef Boyardee, and the use of lead paint in construction might seem tenuous at first. Certainly ConAgra believes so.

"ConAgra Foods vehemently disagrees with the decision," the company vented in a statement to the press. "ConAgra Foods is absolutely not an appropriate defendant and was never in the paint business. As a food maker who employs thousands of people in California, we believe this case is an unfortunate example of extreme overreach."

However, Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg would beg to differ.

According to his assessment, ConAgra assumed the liabilities of paint manufacturer W.P. Fuller & Co. when it acquired Beatrice Company and its former subsidiaries in 1991. As such, the company was ordered to pay damages along side two other defendants - Sherwin-Williams Co. and NL Industries Inc.

In a statement to the stock exchange filed before the California ruling, ConAgra revealed it has faced various litigation and environmental proceedings related to businesses "divested by Beatrice prior to its acquisition by us", including W.P. Fuller. In similar proceedings, the company saw favourable decisions in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Ohio.

ConAgra said it would appeal the California ruling.

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