California sues Clearwater, PAFCO, others over lack of cadmium, lead warnings

Published on
January 6, 2021

The U.S. state of California has sued five seafood companies, including Clearwater Seafoods and Pacific American Fish Company (PAFCO), accusing them of failing to properly label their products as containing lead and cadmium.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit on 29 December alleging violations of the state’s Proposition 65 and Unfair Competition Law. The suit claims Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-based Clearwater Seafoods; Vernon, California-based PAFCO; Hanover, Maryland-based Rhee Bros. Inc.; City of Industry, California-based Seaquest Seafood Corporation; and Paramount, California-based Jayone Foods Inc. “knowingly and intentionally sold products that exposed California consumers to lead or cadmium without providing a clear and reasonable warning that the products contained these toxic chemicals.”

“When California's consumers, restaurants, and supermarkets purchase seafood, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether the products they’re buying contain toxic chemicals,” Becerra said in a press release. “The seafood industry has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its products – and to warn consumers of any risks. I hope this lawsuit serves as a warning to any company that might skirt its responsibilities under Proposition 65. The California Department of Justice will hold you accountable.”

Exposure to lead can cause behavior issues, lowered IQ, slowed body growth, hearing problems, kidney damage, high blood pressure, and adversely affect male reproductive systems; Lead exposure in pregnant women can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight. Cadmium exposure can cause damage to liver, lungs, male reproductive systems, and kidneys, and long-term exposure can lead to decreased bone density that increases the risk of bone fractures, and may also cause lung, prostate, and kidney cancer, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that testing conducted by the California Department of Justice “revealed levels of lead and cadmium in the companies' fresh and frozen packaged seafood products that trigger the requirement to provide a Proposition 65 warning.” It listed products including fresh and frozen packaged seafood including clams, cuttlefish, eel, goby fish, krill, mussels, octopus, oysters, periwinkles, sea squirts, sillago, silverfish, snails, and squid.

California’s Proposition 65 requires the state to create a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, and requires products containing any of those chemicals to include a warning on its packaging “likely to be seen, read, and understood by an ordinary individual under customary conditions of purchase or use.” First passed in 1986, updates to what the law considers "clear and reasonable warnings" were made in August, 2018.

The five seafood importers, distributors, and wholesalers accused in the lawsuit did not provide a clear and reasonable warning to consumers of lead and cadmium contamination in products they sold in California.

Photo courtesy of Vasilis Asvestas/Shutterstock

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