The lawsuit, which was filed by original petitioners GotMercury.org - a project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) - and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), is seeking a response to the original 20 June 2011 request.
The petition called for the FDA to cut allowable mercury levels from 1 part per million (ppm) to 0.5ppm to bring them in line with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations.
Petitioners also urged the implementation of rules requiring seafood sellers to post signs about the danger of mercury in fish and improved health advisories for people most at risk from mercury exposure.
Under federal law, the FDA has up to 180 days to respond to a written petition. However, more than a year has passed without response.
“We are filing suit because the government has failed to respond to reasonable precautions protecting Americans from mercury toxicity in seafood,” said Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) executive director, Todd Steiner.
“By not responding within the 180 days dictated by law, the FDA is demonstrating its lack of due diligence and its obligation to protect women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women, children and the most vulnerable populations from harm.”
Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in air, water and soil. Exposure to mercury can, however, affect the human nervous system and damage the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.
According to the EPA, eating fish or shellfish is the most common way humans are exposed to mercury.
“By ignoring its own standards and allowing seafood that is high in mercury to be sold, the FDA is putting hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans at risk of permanent nerve damage and cognitive disorders, “ said GotMercury.org’s David McGuire. “The FDA is putting Americans in harm’s way through its lack of advisories, enforcement and testing of our nation’s seafood supply.”
Failure to respond
This is not the first time the FDA has faced a lawsuit after failing to respond to a petition.
In December 2011, the federal authority was forced to set a date to reach a decision on a petition to ban bisphenol A (BPA) in food and drink packaging.
The FDA promised to make a decision on the 2008 petition by 31 March 2012 as part of a court settlement with the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC).