Allegory of the Tuna

  • by: |
  • 08/21/2005

There is not a short supply of politicians who think they know better than the FDA when it comes to protecting the public health. The most recent is California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Mr. Lockyer feels that the FDA’s warning about tuna and mercury isn’t strident enough (even though the tuna industry went ballistic when they were issued) — and he wants to take the matter into his own hands. He wants to require signs on store shelves or labels on tuna cans in California warning of the dangers of mercury. I guess he was not aware that labels on food are, by dint of the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, under the suzerainty of the FDA. Fortunately the FDA was more than happy to remind him. In a recent letter, FDA Commissioner Crawford helpfully reminds Mr. Lockyer that, “California should not interfere with FDA’s carefully considered approach of advising consumers of both the benefits and possible risks of eating seafood.” Sometimes the same lesson has to be learned more than once. In 2004, when the state tried to add warnings onto nicotine patches, the California Supreme Court ruled that FDA-approved warning labels for the products precluded the state from requiring additional warnings. It’s sad that, in Prop 65 World, products like nicotine patches that help you quit smoking, and tuna that provides valuable health benefits — even to pregnant women — require more warnings but not more educational promotion — particularly from the Bully Pulpit of elected office. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” puts forth the proposition that the unenlightened cannot tell the difference between shadow reflections and reality. In California, the “Allegory of the Tuna” teaches us that only politicians can see the truth — and science be damned.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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