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California Sues Tuna Companies for Not Labeling Mercury Contamination

Calif. Sues Three Tuna Makers on Product Warning Law
Jun 21, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California on Monday sued three big canned tuna
companies for not warning customers that they are exposed to mercury, state
Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.

The civil suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, named as defendants
Del Monte Foods, maker of StarKist tuna; Bumble Bee Seafoods, a unit of
Connors Brothers Income Fund of Canada, maker of Bumble Bee tuna; and
Tri-Union Seafoods, maker of Chicken of the Sea tuna.

The suit alleged that the companies violated state Proposition 65, an
initiative approved by voters in 1986 that requires businesses to give
"clear and reasonable" warnings before exposing people to "known carcinogens
or reproductive toxins," Lockyer said.

"Prenatal exposure to mercury can cause serious disabilities in infants and
children," he said. "We're not trying to eliminate tuna from people's diets.
We're trying to enforce the law and protect the health of California women
and children," Lockyer said in a statement.

He said methylmercury compounds have been listed under Prop. 65 as a
cancer-causing chemical since 1996, and methylmercury has been listed as a
known reproductive toxin since 1987.

Mercury and mercury compounds have been listed as known reproductive toxins
since 1990, he said.

Prenatal and infant exposure to mercury can cause mental retardation,
cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and developmental and learning
disabilities, Lockyer said.

Responding to Lockyer, the U.S. Tuna Foundation said canned tuna is safe
and the industry is in "full compliance" with the California law.

David Burney, executive director of the industry group, said in a statement
that the suit "is not grounded in science and will needlessly scare
consumers away from affordable foods that are good for them. As health
officials have consistently emphasized, fish and shellfish are an important
part of a balanced diet."

He said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection
Agency advised in March that pregnant and nursing women can safely eat up to
12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish, including canned light tuna, which
are low in mercury, and up to 6 ounces a week of albacore tuna.

California's Prop. 65 does not apply to substances derived from natural
sources, such as mercury in fish, Burney said.

Testing by the attorney general's office showed the mercury levels in both
canned albacore and light tuna were higher than an exposure threshold that
requires a warning. The testing showed canned albacore contains
"significantly higher amounts of mercury" than canned light tuna, Lockyer
said.

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.