Data loading...

California Considering Appeal After Losing Tuna Mercury Ruling

A state appeals court ruled in San Francisco yesterday that American tuna companies don't have to warn consumers of health dangers in mercury found in the fish.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said “there is no dispute that methylmercury is a reproductive toxin that can harm a developing fetus” and cause birth defects.

But the court said there was substantial evidence that at least some of the mercury found in tuna comes from natural sources, such as from rainfall depositing atmospheric mercury in the oceans and possibly from vents on the ocean floor.

The panel said that mercury in tuna therefore did not fall within the jurisdiction of Proposition 65, a consumer law passed by state voters in 1986. The measure mandates warnings on products that cause birth defects or cancer.

The panel ruled in a lawsuit filed by the state against the nation’s three largest tuna companies in 2004.

The three companies are Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, maker of Chicken of the Sea; Del Monte Corp., maker of Starkist; and Bumble Bee Seafoods LLC, maker of Bumble Bee tuna.

The state had sought warnings to pregnant women and women of childbearing age. It said the messages could be provided through tuna can labels, grocery store displays or a public education campaign.

The appeals court upheld a finding by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero in 2006 that the mercury in tuna is naturally occurring and therefore not subject to Proposition 65 warnings.

The ruling could be appealed further to the California Supreme Court.

Scott Gerber, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown, said, “We will examine the ruling closely and determine the appropriate next steps.”

Gerber said, “We’re disappointed in this ruling. The court recognized very clearly that methylmercury is a neurotoxin that can cause serious harm. We continue to believe that the science and the law support our efforts to require the tuna companies to inform consumers that the tuna they eat contains methylmercury.”

Industry organizations say moderate amounts of tuna bring important health benefits by providing protein and omega-3 fatty acids.