California AG presses for tuna labeling

Legal News Line Jan. 28, 2009, 10:19am

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - California continued its push to force the makers of canned tuna to post warning labels in an hour-long hearing at a state appellate court on Tuesday.

The California Attorney General's office is appealing a 2006 ruling against a lawsuit filed by the state seeking warning labels.

The attorney general's office believes products containing chemicals shown to cause cancer and birth defects should be labeled. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises woman who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children to avoid eating tuna because of high levels of mercury.

But the state's lawsuit was thrown out when the trial judge sided with tuna companies, who claimed 95 percent of the mercury found in tuna comes from natural sources, which doesn't fall under California labeling laws.

The companies believe the general federal advisory is sufficient warning for consumers.

On Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Susan Fiering said the ruling incorrectly discounted the state's scientific evidence that shows a higher level of mercury than 5 percent is man-made, but that even 5 percent is enough to trigger the need for warning labels.

Lawyers for the tuna companies - San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafoods LLC and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC (which makes Chicken of the Sea) and San Francisco-based Del Monte Corp., maker of Starkist - argued state regulators are failing to consider how much tuna consumed over time would result in unsafe levels of man-made mercury.

The court gave no indication of which way it would rule.

A decision is expected within 90 days, but both sides are expected to appeal the ruling to California Supreme Court if they lose.

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