For news on the first alleged Proposition 65 violation concerning 4-Methylimidazole (4-MEI) in soda, see my blog posting in the environmental law blog. 4-MEI exists in some food and beverage products, including certain sodas, beers, soy sauces, breads, and coffees, among others.
Sulfur dioxide was recently added as a Proposition 65 chemical that could require warnings to consumers and employees as a chemical that may cause reproductive effects. The listing of sulfur dioxide will be particularly troublesome because sulfur dioxide is used as a fumigant and preservative on a number of fruits, including grapes and in related food products, such as wine. Please see our recent blog entitled, "Sulfur Dioxide Added to Prop 65 Could Have Broad Range of Impacts" and California Grape and Fruit Tree League comments for additional information.
The California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District has upheld a trial court ruling that canned tuna sold in California need not warn consumers about methylmercury.
In 2004, the State of California sued three tuna companies: Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC; Del Monte Corporation; and Bumble Bee Foods, LLC. The state argued, among other things, that California’s Proposition 65 requires the companies to provide warnings to pregnant women and women of childbearing age that the canned tuna the companies distribute and sell contains trace amounts of methylmercury, a chemical that can cause harm to a developing fetus. After a six-week trial in 2006, the lower court ruled against the state, holding that (i) Proposition 65 was preempted because it conflicts with federal law, (ii) the amount of methylmercury in canned tuna does not rise to the threshold level that would require a warning on the product, and (iii) the tuna companies are exempt from Proposition 65’s warning requirements because virtually all methylmercury is “naturally occurring.”
The state appealed, and the appellate court recently issued a decision upholding the tuna companies’ victory on the sole basis that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that methylmercury is naturally occurring in canned tuna. Proposition 65 contains several exemptions to its warning requirements, one of which provides that there is no duty to warn if a chemical is naturally occurring in food. Significantly, the appellate court did not address the preemption or threshold level findings of the trial court. The court also posited scenarios that could lead to a renewed Proposition 65 claim against the tuna companies (see page 28 of the decision).
No word yet on whether the state plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.