Last August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit refused to exempt the company Tri-Union Seafood, maker of Chicken of the Sea Tuna, from liability for the mercury poisoning of a New Jersey woman from contaminated canned tuna.
Since then, the lawsuit filed by Deborah Fellner has made its way to the US Supreme Court, who decided on Monday that the case will be allowed to move forward.
Fellner, who ate almost nothing but canned tuna for five years, is suing Tri-Union Seafood under the New Jersey Product Liability Act for failing to warn her of the dangers associated with eating the tuna, by not including a mercury-related label on its products.
Tri-Union has argued it is not responsible for Fellner’s condition because the FDA doesn’t mandate mercury warnings on tuna fish cans. A Supreme Court agreement at this stage would have amounted to a huge win for federal preemption. Instead, the Supreme Court allowed the Third Circuit Appeals Court’s ruling to stand, without comment.
For several years, the FDA has issued advisories regarding the potential risk of mercury in canned tuna. The risk of adverse mercury effects is highest among babies, young children, and pregnant women, whose fetuses are particularly vulnerable.
Studies have linked low levels of mercury exposure in pregnant women and young children with damage to neurological and behavioral function. They have also associated frequent adult consumption of fish containing high levels of mercury with neurologic, cardiovascular, and immune system dysfunction.
High-risk populations are encouraged to avoid consuming canned tuna, choosing fish that contain low or negligible levels of mercury, such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp, and clams, instead.
Hopefully, the Fellner lawsuit will lead to FDA labeling mandates for mercury—a contaminant which is too dangerous for us to rely on hearsay to prevent its overconsumption.