Filed Under: Seafood Trial Lawyers

California’s Lawsuit Machine Strikes Again

Proposition 65, California’s gift to trial lawyers, has struck again. The inane “Prop 65” requires any product containing one of several hundred “known carcinogens” to bear a warning label — even though it may be used in concentrations so low that adverse health effects are essentially impossible. Since the law’s inception, fearful manufacturers have been forced to slap silly Prop 65 warnings on everything from chainsaws and power mowers to fishing rods. All California consumer products without warning labels, take one step forward … Not so fast, salmon.

On January 13 the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) teamed up, in their words, to “sue many manufacturers, distributors and retailers of farmed salmon over potentially dangerous levels of cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the fish” under Prop 65. Such scare campaigns are big business in California, as agitators can cash in under Prop 65’s “bounty hunter” provision. Plaintiffs stand to collect 25 percent of fines, which can reach $2,500 per violation per day.

Recall that last summer, EWG tried to manufacture another salmon scare, which was promptly put to rest by calmer heads at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result of EWG’s forays into the food scare arena, the group’s “environmental research” has raised more than an eyebrow.

But the fishiness surrounding this recent attack on farmed salmon runs much deeper than greed, bad science, and flawed conclusions. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently funded a $2.5 million study on PCBs and farmed salmon that was intended to scare Americans away from fish. While the study was published in the journal Science, the editors at first refused to run it until the authors “toned it down slightly.” Moreover, the study’s lead researcher, David Carpenter, candidly remarked to the The Times of London that “there may be some legitimacy in saying the reason they [Pew] chose to fund this study was that they had another agenda well beyond the health effects.”

As it happens, Pew was a major donor to the Environmental Working Group for many years. And Pew recently changed its tax and legal status from that of a “private foundation” to a “public charity.” This enables the multibillion-dollar behemoth to behave more like the activist groups it’s been funding all these years.

While EWG and CEH want to force misleading warning labels on farmed salmon, the California state legislature is mulling a law that would completely ban the sale of farmed salmon in California. Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Sacramento) introduced this legislation just prior to the announcement of EWG and CEH’s lawsuit.

Levine may want to turn his ear toward Canada, where they know their salmon. That nation’s chief health authorities report: “ [C]onsuming farmed salmon does not pose a health risk to consumers.” Likewise, the British Food Standards Agency (the UK’s equivalent to our FDA) notes that the results of the Pew-funded study show the levels of PCBs and dioxins in salmon are “within up to date safety levels set by the World Health Organization and the European Commission.” As if these levels weren’t safe enough, EWG and Pew failed to point out that the majority of the PCB’s and dioxin are found in the fish’s skin and fatty outer layer, which most people don’t eat.

This concerted effort by anti-aquaculture activists to wrestle heart-healthy nutrients from California dinner plates is a bizarre but natural outgrowth of Proposition 65. When environmental Chicken Littles go on fishing expeditions where no harm exists, misinformation mayhem usually results. Salmon-loving consumers should hang on to their catch, and toss the scaremongers back to sea.

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