Houston Company Hit With Claim Its Fish Contain PCBs

A Houston-based fish-oil manufacturer might be exposing consumers to a harmful carcinogen, according to a lawsuit filed by environmental activists earlier this month.

Filed in a California Superior Court, the suit accuses Omega Protein and seven other fish-oil manufacturers of failing to warn consumers that "ingestion of these products causes [consumers] to be exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]" which are known "to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm."

The suit was filed by Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation, a California-based non-profit, and activists Christopher Manthey and Benson Chiles. They allege that Omega and the other defendants are violating California labeling requirements mandating that consumers have a right to be informed about supplements and foods that contain potentially harmful chemicals.

"At all times relevant to this action, Defendants knew that the fish oil supplements they manufactured, distributed or marketed were causing exposure to PCBs," the suit states. The plaintiffs want the companies to add warning labels to the packaging of any PCB-containing products.

Omega Protein is the largest harvester of menhaden, a fish found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. Omega harvests the fish mostly for use in livestock feed and fertilizer, but has been trying to break into the fish-oil market over the last ten years.

In a statement on the suit, Omega insisted that its fish oil met rigorous safety standards set by the Center for Responsible Nutrition.

Also, according to the company's statement, Omega "has worked cooperatively with the groups behind the lawsuit in California for the past several months, sharing information and answering any questions that arose. There are many issues on which Omega Protein disagrees with the plaintiffs, including methods of measuring PCBs, the level of PCBs at which a warning would be requiredm testing protocols, and applicable industry standards."

As far as we're concerned, if PCBs are good enough for fish, they're good enough for people. But we'll be keeping an eye on this.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow