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The Multi-Million Dollar Question: Were American Consumers Cheated On Tuna Weight?

The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) are battling in defense of the US Big Three tuna brands in the Hendricks v StarKist case that could cost the American tuna industry tens of millions of dollars for counts including fraud.

Patrick Hendricks, a Californian citizen has issued a lawsuit against StarKist, one of the top three tuna brands in the US, outlining the brands canned tuna was “under filled and thus substantially underweight.”

In fact the StarKist tuna in water can contents were weighing at only 2.35 ounces of pressed cake tuna of the 2.85 ounces required as the federally mandated minimum, which was found by independent laboratory testing, a whole 17.3 percent less than stated by law.

The complaint stated: “ StarKist is cheating purchasers by providing 17.3 percent less tuna than purchasers are paying for.”

But the NFI, who are defending StarKist outlined that testing in this way was impossible due to there not being many machines available. Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for NFI said: “ It’s hard to replicate time after time after time.”

The NFI, representing the US Big Three tuna brands, StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumblebee have issued a petition to change the methods in which the US tuna industry weigh tuna for its canned products, replacing the current pressed cake weight, ruled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with drained weight, which would bring the US in line with all other nations.

But the FDA have been in talks with tuna suppliers to the US market since 1994 about changing the measuring method to a drained weight standard, and past petitions against the current pressed cake weight that presses the moisture out of the meat without fully draining it had been dismissed. The FDA said this was due to past requests not providing satisfactory information for them to propose a change to the current law.

Only since the recent complaint by Hendricks stating that consumers are paying for more tuna than they are getting, did the NFI submit the new request, asking the US District Court to submit an amicus brief in the case of Hendricks v StarKist, meaning they were not only urging the direct effects on StarKist to be assessed, but also the wider implications the legal decision could have on the whole of the tuna industry in the US.

The lawsuit that Hendricks has issued against StarKist, which seeks class-action status, could directly affect the other top US tuna brands, not just StarKist, according to NFI’s filing.

The court Jurisdiction outlines that Hendricks represents unknown numbers of citizens, but aggregate claims of all members of the proposed class are in excess of five million dollars.

Plaintiff Hendricks asserts claims on behalf of himself and a nationwide class of purchasers of StarKist Tuna, for breach of express warranty, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, unjust enrichment, violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), violation of the California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), violation of the California False Advertising Law (“FAL”), negligent misrepresentation, and fraud.