SAN FRANCISCO, CA –This week, with the placement of a full page ad in the New York Times, an environmental organization launched a new campaign aimed at national grocer retailer Safeway for its failure to warn customers nation-wide about mercury-contaminated seafood. The campaign was launched in the wake of stalled talks with upper Safeway management, which recently ended in a stalemate. Turtle Island Restoration Network is asking Safeway to expand its mercury-in-seafood health warning signs to all of its 1,802 Safeway-owned stores throughout the United States and Canada.
"Safeway should be taking a leadership role and live up to its new 'Ingredients for Life' marketing campaign by posting signs in their stores throughout the nation," says Andy Peri, Public Health Analyst for Turtle Island Restoration Network. Is mercury-contaminated fish an ingredient for ‘life’ or an ingredient for illness and possible death?”
Most of California's Safeway stores have warning signs at fish counters where high-mercury fish such as swordfish, shark and tuna are sold- but only in California as required under Proposition 65. Outside of California, however, Safeway is not willing to post the inexpensive warning signs.
Steven Burd, CEO of Safeway, confronted by Peri at last week’s Safeway’s stockholders meeting, responded that there has been a lot of media attention on the issue, suggesting that additional warning signs aren’t needed.
“Safeway is spending over $100 million dollars to promote its “Ingredients for Life” marketing campaign but refuses to spend pennies per store to post warning signs where mercury contaminated fish is being sold. Mr. Burd knows better than anybody the importance of getting a marketing message out; his suggestion that a few news articles have adequately educated Safeway customers about the dangers of mercury lacks integrity. Safeway's lack of meaningful action is certain to result in more Safeway customers, especially children, being poisoned by mercury."
Seafood consumers have written thousands of emails, letters and faxes to Safeway's CEO, Steven Burd asking him to require mercury warning signs nationwide, but the requests have not been acknowledged by Safeway management and to date, no action has been taken.
Fish collected at Safeway stores by Turtle Island Restoration Network in 2004 revealed 78% of samples exceeding the FDA's action level of 1 part per million mercury with samples reaching as high as 1.5 parts per million, 50% higher the FDA action level. Even fish with levels of mercury below the FDA action level can cause significant harm to both children and adults.
The FDA warns women of childbearing age and mothers not to eat swordfish at all. Despite this fact, Safeway does not feel compelled to remove mercury-tainted fish or meaningfully warn customers of the dangers of eating swordfish and other fish that are high in mercury like shark and albacore tuna. In a March 2004 joint advisory, the FDA and EPA warn women of childbearing age and mothers to not eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish and to limit their consumption of albacore tuna because they contain high levels of mercury.
If a 120 pound women were to consume 8 ounces of swordfish containing 1.5 parts per million mercury she would be exposed to more than 860% of what the FDA and EPA considers safe. Such a diet high in mercury-contaminated fish would put a nursing baby or a child in the womb at significant risk of neurological damage. Children are not the only populations at risk from methylmercury, however.
A new report by the Research Institute of Public Health in Finland shows a significant increase of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks in men with elevated mercury levels.
Fish consumers can protect themselves from mercury-contaminated fish by using an online mercury calculator at http://www.gotmercury.org. The calculator allows consumers to choose the lowest mercury fish while avoiding fish with the highest levels of mercury-contamination.
“This ad is just the beginning of our campaign to alert the public to threats from eating contaminated seafood being purchased as supermarkets. You can expect to see grassroots activists from our growing coalition of organizations in front of Safeway supermarkets in your neighborhood soon”, says Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
To view the ad, go to www.seaturtles.org