Bumble Bee tuna cans. (Photo: StockFile)
Tuna canning giants pay USD 3.3 mln in penalties
Tuesday, August 07, 2012, 01:50 (GMT + 9)
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M Dumanis has announced the multi-million dollar settlement of a civil consumer protection case against three tuna canning giants.
Bumble Bee Foods, Chicken of the Sea International and StarKist agreed to an injunction to follow the federal packing standards for the fill of tuna in canned tuna products, and agreed to pay USD 3.3 million collectively in civil penalties, costs and other relief.
The case was opened by San Diego County District Attorney’s office together with Marin County and Riverside County District Attorney’s Offices based on a 2010 investigation by the California Department of Food and Agriculture into the amount of tuna in cans.
Canned tuna is often packed in water, oil and vegetable broth, and the amount of tuna relative to additional ingredients is determined by a federal “standard of fill.”
However, the investigation found the big three companies did not meet the required amount of tuna in cans they had packed with vegetable broth and added flavours.
"The California Department of Food and Agriculture has a division of measurement standards, and they look at short weights, among other things," San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas said. "Someone had an anecdotal feeling there was less tuna in cans, and they looked into it."
These shortages were found in canned tuna packed in vegetable broth, according to prosecutors, Reuters reports.
"It's not necessarily intentional," Darvas noted. "They get a little sloppy on keeping up with calibrating their weighing equipment, and we occasionally have to provide an incentive that they play by the rules."
The tuna canners did not admit liability in the settlement.
“Our Consumer Unit is focused on making sure San Diego consumers get what they pay for,” said Dumanis. “Labels help consumers make selections, in this case our offices worked together to make sure that what is on the label is what’s actually in the can.”
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI), which represents the three tuna canners, blamed the problem on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 55-year-old pressed weight standard. What is needed is a more modern, consistent and reliable standard of measurement that can be easily understood and verified by consumers, NFI argued.
The USD 3.3 million-settlement includes USD 969,500 to be paid to the consumer protection divisions of Marin, Riverside and San Diego counties; USD 300,000 worth of canned tuna to be donated to California Food Banks; and investigation costs, Darvas said.
By Natalia Real