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Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks
regarding food. In 2004, the Attorney General of California joined a lawsuit filed by the Public Media Center, a nonprofit media and consumer advocacy agency in San Francisco, against the nation’s three largest canned tuna companies to enforce Proposition 65, California’s 1986 law requiring warnings about exposure to contaminants, such as methylmercury.
Restaurant and Fast-Food Menu Information The away-from-home sector is exempt from nutritional and country of origin labeling requirements. Further, many restaurants do not identify seafood products such as breaded fish sandwiches by species. Some of this information is provided voluntarily, and this may increase with consumer demand for specific types of seafood.
In April 2003, the Attorney General of California filed suit against major restaurant chains in the state for violating Proposition 65 requirements to inform consumers of potential exposure to “substances known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity” by failing to post “clear and reasonable” consumer warnings about exposure to mercury in seafood (i.e., shark, swordfish, and tuna). The suit was settled in early 2005, when most of the restaurants agreed to put up warnings about the risks from mercury in seafood near the front door, hostess desk or reception area, or entry or waiting area (California Office of the Attorney General, [http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/2005/05-011.htm]). The information provided in this sector remains largely unregulated. The outcome of the lawsuit concluded that labeling under Proposition 65 was preempted for mercury in tuna, although the decision was specific to the circumstances in the case. All applications of Proposition 65 to food were not preempted by the decision. Moreover, this decision was by a state judge and specific to Proposition 65 and California—not other laws or other states.
Regulated Point-of-Purchase Information Retailers may place nutrition information on individual food wrappers or on stickers affixed to the outside of the food. Compliance with point-of-purchase guidelines is checked by biennial surveys of 2,000 food stores that sell raw produce or fish and the results are reported to Congress. Additionally, every 2 years the FDA publishes, in the Federal Register, revised nutrition labeling data for the 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits, vegetables, and fish.
Recent research suggests that the amount of information available on fresh seafood products in retail settings varies markedly, with counter staff frequently unable to provide additional information (Burger et al., 2004). In addition to the quantity and types of information available to consumers, the accuracy of information should also be considered. Limited tests indicate that seafood products may be misrepresented—for example, sold as wild when they are in fact farmed (Is Our Fish Fit to Eat, 1992; Burros, 2005).