SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- December 20 -- In another victory for public health, Morton's Steakhouse of New York has removed swordfish from its menu. Morton's move marks the second major American restaurant chain to remove swordfish from its menu in just over a year. In the Fall of 2003, Red Lobster removed swordfish from its menu as a result of a national campaign calling for its removal due to high levels of mercury.
"We applaud Morton's for taking mercury contaminated fish off the menu. It was the right thing to do," says Andy Peri, Pubic Health Analyst for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project
Morton's Restaurant Group, a leader in the fine dining segment of the restaurant industry and the largest company-owned steakhouse group in the United States, made the move in the wake of growing national concern about eating swordfish and after a March 2004 FDA advisory that warns consumers about the dangers of eating swordfish.
"We deeply hope this trend continues," says Cindy Walter, owner of the Pacific Grove-based Passionfish restaurant, which serves only sustainable, low-mercury seafood. "Seafood retailers are a critical part of the solution in protecting customers from mercury not to mention protecting the health of the oceans"
Mercury contamination of seafood is a persistent public health concern. The FDA warns pregnant women to "protect your unborn child by not eating these large fish that can contain high levels of methylmercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish." The FDA also advises limited consumption of albacore tuna (see http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html). The California Attorney General, under Proposition 65, requires signs in stores and restaurants that warn mothers and women of childbearing age not to eat swordfish, shark and other species high in mercury.
In order to protect consumers from mercury, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project published a website at http://www.gotmercury.org that allows consumers to individually gauge their mercury exposure from eating many types of seafood.
Methylmercury-the organic form of mercury found in many species of fish-has long been recognized as a potent neurotoxin that can cause nervous system and brain damage in developing fetuses, infants, and young children. According to an analysis released in February 2004 by the EPA of Centers for Disease Control data, one in 6 women of childbearing age in the U.S. has unsafe mercury levels, translating to over 630,000 babies born at risk for mercury exposure in the U.S. each year. Research also links mercury to cardiovascular, kidney and immune system disease in adults.
In August 2004 the Sea Turtle Restoration Project released data show higher-than-expected levels of mercury in swordfish purchased in California Stores.
"The mercury levels in swordfish sold in California are representative of swordfish sold world-wide as mercury contamination in the oceans is a global phenomenon" says Peri. "We are encouraged that national restaurant leaders are removing swordfish and protecting their customers, and we hope that others will follow."