Eight fish oil firms are being sued by environmentalists for deceptive labelling. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)
Fish oil companies sued for deceiving consumers
Thursday, March 04, 2010, 00:00 (GMT + 9)
Environmentalists are suing eight fish oil dietary supplement manufacturers or distributors for not warning consumers that their products contain harmful and illegal amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds. PCBs were banned in 1979 for their carcinogenic and reproductive toxicity effects.
Two citizens and the non-profit consumer rights organisation Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation filed a lawsuit in Superior Court of the State of California on Tuesday against CVS Pharmacy, General Nutrition Corp, Now Health Group, Omega Protein, Pharmavite LLC (Nature Made brand), Rite Aid Corp, Solgar and TwinLab Corp.
Attorney David Roe, who helped write Proposition 65, filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court contending that Proposition 65 requires that consumers be warned when products contain toxic ingredients exceeding the limit deemed safe by regulators. Some of the supplements tested by the plaintiffs go beyond California's daily limit for PCBs by a factor of 10 in terms of the cancer risk, Roe said, reports San Jose Mercury News.
The plaintiffs’ initial testing found that levels of PCBs in the fish oil supplements, which are touted as health supplements for their Omega-3 fatty acid content, vary unpredictably: from about 12 nanograms to over 850 nanograms per recommended dose - a factor of 70. All companies being sued are violating Proposition 65 for not displaying the PCB levels on their products’ packaging, CBS News reports.
The products in question only carry deceptive labels claiming they are "Screened for PCBs" or "Treated to Remove PCBs." The plaintiffs and their attorneys believe the manufacturers already possess encompassing data on the amount of PCBs in their product, but even those companies whose products contain the lowest amount of PCBs lack incentive to display the data if their competitors do not join them.
More tests will be run and the plaintiffs expect to add other companies to the suit, they said.
A daily limit for PCBs has not been set by California for the risk of birth defects, but the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been studying that risk for 20 years, according to co-plaintiff Benson Chiles, director of the Coastal Ocean Coalition in New Jersey.
"Our message to the public is: 'Buyer beware,'" Chiles said.
Meanwhile, the companies in the lawsuit are contesting the claims made against them.
"PCBs are ubiquitous within the environment, which means that all fish -- whether fish found in oceans and rivers or fish oil supplements -- contain at least trace amounts of PCBs," said Erin Hlasney of the Council for Responsible Nutrition. "The lawyers are using California's Prop 65 statute to bring attention to their case by attempting to frame this as a public health concern, when in reality, fish oil has enjoyed decades of safe use."
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