SAN DIEGO – Three major tuna packers accused of failing to meet federal requirements for the amount of fish in their cans reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with several California district attorneys, officials announced Friday.
San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, and Pittsburgh-based StarKist Co. agreed to pay $3.3 million in the settlement without any admission of wrongdoing, said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis.
Tri-Union markets under the Chicken of the Sea brand name.
The brands were not found liable for any violations.
In a statement from the National Fisheries Institute, the seafood trade organization that represents the three companies said the dispute centers on the Federal Department of Agriculture's 55-year-old pressed weight standard.
"Rather than litigate against an outdated standard, the companies will continue their own efforts with FDA towards establishing a more modern, consistent and reliable standard of measurement that can be easily understood and verified by consumers," the trade association said. "While working with FDA to change the standard, the brands continue to comply with FDA pressed weight regulations."
District attorneys in San Diego, Riverside and Marin counties opened the case in 2010 following an investigation by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The probe found the companies failed to meet federal standards for tuna in cans relative to ingredients such as vegetable broth and added flavors, Dumanis said.
Prosecutors acknowledged the companies worked cooperatively with their offices to resolve the matter promptly, she said.
"Labels help consumers make selections," Dumanis said. "In this case our offices worked together to make sure that what is on the label is what's actually in the can."
Since it would not be feasible to identify consumers who bought the under-filled cans, Dumanis said part of the settlement calls for the companies to hand over $300,000 worth of canned tuna to be distributed to food banks in California.
Each of the three counties will also receive $969,500 for costs incurred in the investigation. The state food and agriculture department will get $86,000 to cover its investigative costs.