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Tuna canners win Prop 65 case
- Fiona Robinson
June 01, 2006
A San Francisco Superior Court judge last month ruled that
tuna canners don't have to label their product with mercury
warnings under California's Proposition 65 law, which requires
food manufacturers to warn consumers of products containing
potentially hazardous ingredients.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the three big tuna
companies, Bumble Bee Foods, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea,
in 2004, and the case went to trial in March. Judge Robert
Dondero ruled in favor of the tuna canners on all three aspects
of the case: that Food and Drug Administration laws preempt
California's Prop 65 law, that the exposure of methylmercury in
canned tuna is below the maximum allowable level, and that
methylmercury in tuna fits into the "naturally occurring"
exception to Prop 65 since tuna canners cannot control the
level of mercury in their products.
"Consumers are really the winners in this case," says
Forrest Hainline of Goodwin Procter, attorney for the tuna
"The judge has made a commonsense ruling based on nutrition
and science. It's easy to see that canned tuna has always been
an extremely healthy and important food source despite
extremists' attempts to raise irrelevant and misleading
Food producers hope the tuna decision sets a precedent for
Congress to pass the National Uniformity for Food Act, which
would give federal regulators the power to decide what foods
require warning labels for certain ingredients. The legislation
continues in Congressional debate; representatives from the
Food Products Association anticipate a vote in June.
"This is a good decision. There still is the need for the
Uniformity for Food Act," says Tim Willard, VP of
communications for the FPA in Washington, D.C.
"Instead of finding ways to discourage people from eating
seafood, we should be busy finding ways to help everyone eat
better," says David Burney, executive director of the U.S. Tuna
Foundation, which represents the big three tuna companies.
Burney announced his retirement shortly after the tuna case was
decided. Anne Forristall Luke was named president of the
Luke has spent many years in government relations and public
affairs. For the past three years she was a principal at MGN,
an independent federal government relations firm in Washington
specializing in legislative and regulatory strategy.
- Fiona Robinson