After a two-month trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero late last week ruled that California cannot require the manufacturers of Chicken of the Sea, StarKist and Bumble Bee tuna to warn consumers that their products contain mercury and mercury compounds. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed the lawsuit in June 2004 under the state antitoxics law Proposition 65, which requires businesses to warn the public about exposure to chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.” The law does not apply to chemicals that occur naturally in food.

Press reports indicate the court ruled that (i) Prop. 65 is preempted by a March 2004 Food and Drug Administration joint consumer advisory on methylmercury in fish and shellfish; (ii) low levels of mercury contained in tuna products do not merit warnings; and (iii) tuna is exempt from Prop. 65 requirements because mercury in fish is naturally occurring. “We, with respect to the court, believe the ruling is wrong on the law, wrong on the science and bad for the women and children of California,” a spokesperson for the attorney general was quoted as saying. “The scientific community considers the argument put forth by the defendants pure speculation and without foundation.” The state is currently evaluating whether to appeal the ruling. See Associated Press, May 12, 2006; The Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2006.

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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