O’Sullivan said he ex- pected the number of listeriosis-linked deaths to rise to 500 because of cases that could have slipped through the cracks of the public health system. He based this on previous incidents that involved mass deaths.
They will work with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to finalise the exact number of deaths and illnesses. The 479 criminal dockets would include cases of attempted murder and culpable homicide.
“I don’t believe the number of deaths is 180. It’s a lot higher. It’s a lot like the fire at Grenfell Towers (in London). The day after, they were saying 18 people died, but the final figure was close to a 100.
"After New York 9/11, the initial figure was 1000 deaths but the final figure was over 3000. People who are victims to less-known crimes tend not to report it, and my estimation is the listeriosis deaths could easily jump to 500 because of unreported cases at public hospitals,” said O’Sullivan.
The FFJ has set up a page on its website and a toll-free number, 0800 118 118, where families of unreported victims of listeriosis can contact the non-profit organisation. Their efforts to open criminal cases will run together with the class action that human rights lawyer Richard Spoor is initiating against Tiger Brands.
Two weeks ago, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the source of the listeriosis outbreak came from two brands of polony made by Tiger Brands' Enterprise Foods and RCL.
At the time, Motsoaledi could confirm 180 deaths. But Tiger Brands executive officer Lawrence MacDougall maintained there was no direct link between the deaths and his company’s processed cold meat products.
Last week the company conceded to have received a report from the department which confirmed the presence of the LST6 listeria strain at its factory in Polokwane. The company said it would appoint an expert team to identify the causes.
O’Sullivan said MacDougall’s response to the pandemic was shocking and lacked empathy. He also called for the company’s board of directors to be dissolved.
He said it was unacceptable that on one hand the company was deep-cleaning all affected facilities while on the other it denied culpability.
“The sheer scale of the epidemic can only be that there has been a catastrophic breakdown in standards and procedures which has resulted in the deaths of too many people and hundreds more poisoned.
"Such a procedural breakdown has to be criminality, and FFJ intends to make sure the relevant executives and directors of Tiger Brands are held responsible What we find completely unacceptable is that Tiger Brands are still in denial,” said O’Sullivan.
The company, however, said it was doing all it could to remedy the situation.
“We acknowledge and recognise that we are dealing with a national crisis which has impacted customers, consumers and the industry. Tiger Brands wants to be at the forefront of finding a solution,” said MacDougall.