Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in a federal court in California against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to force the agency to act on their June 2011 petition seeking to reduce the allowable level of mercury in seafood. Turtle Island Restoration Network v. Hamburg, No. C12-03884-EDL (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., filed July 25, 2012). The organizations claim that while FDA had 180 days, or until December 17, 2011, to respond to the petition, “[t]o date, FDA has neither granted nor denied the petition and has taken no action to reduce human exposure to mercury from commercial fish.” They request a court order declaring that FDA has violated the Administrative Procedure Act and requiring the agency to issue a decision on their petition within 30 days.
The plaintiffs contend that FDA’s current action level for mercury in seafood at 1 part per million (ppm) “is insufficient to protect public health especially the most vulnerable populations.” They allege that “EPA determined that an action level for mercury of 0.5 ppm for recreation and sport caught fish was necessary to protect women of childbearing age,” and that “some fish such as swordfish and tuna regularly exceed the 1 ppm limit.” Among other matters, the petition asked FDA to reduce the level by 50 percent, develop a widespread testing program, update its advisories, and “[r]equire seafood distributors, retailers, restaurants and all institutions that sell seafood to post the FDA/EPA mercury-in-fish advisory at ‘point-of-sale’ locations and/or label fish products that are known to be high in mercury.” According to the plaintiffs, their members and staff are concerned about mercury contamination in fish and wish to make informed choices about safe seafood consumption. The complaint outlines purported risks to human health from mercury exposure.
Network Executive Director Todd Steiner reportedly said about the complaint, “We are filing suit because the government has failed to respond to reasonable precautions protecting Americans from mercury toxicity in seafood. By not responding within the 180 days dictated by law, the FDA is demonstrating its lack of due diligence and its obligation to protect women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women, children and the most vulnerable populations from harm.” See Turtle Island Restoration Network News Release, July 25, 2012.