(SAN FRANCISCO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer today approved a settlement of an environmental lawsuit against major restaurant chains under which hundreds of restaurants statewide will be required to post warnings for patrons about mercury in fish.
"We're not trying to discourage people from eating fish, which is an important source of protein and an important part of a balanced, healthy diet," said Lockyer. "But people have a right to know when they are being exposed to substances that can cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm, and businesses have a legal duty to provide that notice. This settlement achieves these significant public health objectives."
The settlement also requires the restaurants to pay $132,287 in civil penalties and another $132,287 to fund programs to educate consumers about mercury in fish, and to help finance the effort to monitor the defendants' compliance with the settlement.
Lockyer filed the lawsuit in April 2003, alleging the restaurants violated Proposition 65 by failing to post "clear and reasonable" consumer warnings about exposure to mercury in shark, swordfish and tuna. Proposition 65 requires such warnings when consumers are exposed to substances known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Mercury and its various compounds are listed by the state as such substances.
All but two of the restaurants will be required to post a detailed warning about mercury in fish that includes a notice that pregnant women and young children should not eat shark, swordfish, mackerel and tilefish. The same warning also advises pregnant women and small children to limit their consumption of tuna. The other two restaurant chains – Morton's Restaurant Group and a corporation that includes Bennigan's – will have to post a generic warning that advises patrons known carcinogens or reproductive toxins may be present in food or beverages sold in the restaurant.
The warnings must be posted near the front door, near the hostess desk or reception area, or near the entry or waiting area. The signs must be at eye level and sufficiently lit.
Besides the Morton's and Bennigan's chains, other major restaurants covered by the settlement include: Red Lobster, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Yard House, Chili's, Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Benihana, Chart House, Claim Jumper, Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's.