April 3, 2013
SAN FRANCISCOMcCormick & Company, Inc., Farmer Bros. Co. and Adams Extract & Spice LLC all have been sued by a Connecticut-based law firm for violating California's Proposition 65. The lawsuits claim the companies failed to provide a warning that they are distributing food extracts, flavors and colorings containing certain levels of a carcinogen in violation of Prop 65, more formally known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
Prop 65 requires business to "provide a 'clear and reasonable' warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing" individuals to a list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, according to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard.
4-MEI, or 4-Methylimidazole, is the carcinogenic chemical named in the lawsuits. In January 2012, the substance was added to Prop 65's list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, according to The Chanler Group, the environmental law firm that filed the complaints on behalf of the plaintiff Whitney R. Leeman.
This particular compound has been listed as a carcinogen for two years now, but many products still contain the toxic chemical without the labeling required by law," said Clifford Chanler, founder and spokesperson for The Chanler Group, in a statement Tuesday. The safety of consumers is important to us. These three companies are united by a responsibility to either remove the toxic chemicals from their manufacturing processes, or to label those products in compliance with the law."
The lawsuits were filed in California Superior Court, San Francisco County. They seek civil penalties plus injunctive and permanent relief to compel the defendants to provide the warnings.
The Chanler Group said it previously issued 60-day notices of violation to the defendants, demanding that the manufacturers comply with the law. But the companies continued to commit the infractions, the lawsuits allege. Public enforcement agencies can bring an action under Prop 65 but haven't done so in these cases.
Representatives for McCormick & Company, Farmer Bros. and Adams Extract & Spice did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuits.
The 27-year-old Prop 65 has led to 16,000 lawsuits and nearly $500 million in settlements, according to the national law firm, Alston & Bird, LLP.
Earlier this year, a California assemblyman introduced an amendment that would give businesses 14 days to cure violations of Prop 65 without being subject to fines.
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