Health and Environmental Groups Call for Accurate Federal Mercury Advisory Signs

Benihana Urged to Post Correct Mercury Advisories

FOREST KNOLLS, CA — Benihana Restaurants Inc., which includes RA Sushi and Haru Sushi restaurants, began posting mercury advisory signs nationally that misinform women and children about the risks of mercury in seafood. GotMercury.Org has urged Benihana since March 2006 to post signs after testing mercury levels of tuna served at Benihana and its affiliated restaurants. In August 2006, Benihana began posting signs that misstate the FDA and EPA’s 2004 mercury warnings for women and children.

“Tuna sushi tested at Benihana, Haru Sushi, and RA Sushi across the country showed mercury levels unsafe for many of the families who dine there,” said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.Org. “Benihana posts signs in California that carry the correct mercury advisories, but the restaurant chain has refused to post similar signs for all their customers. This is despite a national trend for supermarkets and restaurants to educate consumers so customers can make informed decisions.”

GotMercury.Org has tested mercury in tuna sushi in major US cities since January 2006 after FDA reports showed the tuna species served as sushi, sashimi, and `ahi had high average mercury levels. GotMercury.Org tested 31 tuna sushi samples at Benihana locations in California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Washington, DC. The key findings from these studies showed:

· About 10 percent of samples were near or above the FDA action level of 1.0 ppm of mercury – the level at which the FDA is empowered to remove fish from the marketplace as unsafe for consumers.
· Overall, tuna sushi from Benihana, Ra Sushi, and Haru Sushi averaged 0.449 ppm – higher than mercury levels allowable under Japan’s strict 0.4 ppm standard.
· About 1 in 5 tuna samples (6 out of 31) exceeded the levels of king mackerel (0.730 ppm), which the FDA and EPA warn women who are pregnant, nursing, or intend to become pregnant and children not to eat.
· One tuna sample was 1.719 ppm or 172 percent of the maximum advised exposure for any consumer.

A study estimated that mercury exposure causes $8.7 billion in annual costs to the US due to lower IQs and other health problems caused by methylmercury, the neurotoxin found in some fish. Methylmercury is most dangerous to the development of the brain and nervous system in infants and children. Tuna, like other fish that are long-lived and grow large, bioaccumulate methylmercury as goes up the food chain.

“All Benihana, RA Sushi, and Haru Sushi locations should post a mercury-in-fish advisory sign like their California locations do,” Saddler stated. “A coalition of health and environmental groups is urging Benihana to provide the same signs nationally that they already post in California.”

California Communities Against Toxics, Clean Air Council, Environment Illinois, Mercury Policy Project/Zero Mercury Working Group, Rhode Island Clean Water Action, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, and Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) joined GotMercury.Org to ask Benihana to correct its mercury-in-fish advisory signs in a November 28, 2006 letter to Benihana President and CEO Joel Schwartz.

In addition to the 76 Benihana locations nationwide, Benihana Restaurants Inc operates 7 Haru restaurants (New York City, NY and Philadelphia, PA) and 13 RA Sushi restaurants (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, and Texas). Miami-based Benihana Restaurants Inc. is the largest restaurant chain that features sushi.

About GotMercury.Org
GotMercury.Org is a public health education campaign to protect consumers from mercury in seafood and to make healthier, safer choices. GotMercury.Org is an online calculator that uses the EPA formula for mercury exposure with the FDA published data on seafood mercury levels. The GotMercury.Org campaign has worked to increase posting of mercury-in-seafood advisories in restaurants and supermarkets, first in California under Proposition 65 and later through partnerships and grassroots consumer efforts to persuade Safeway, Albertson’s, and other supermarkets to post signs nationally. GotMercury.Org’s campaign led to Safeway posting mercury advisories nationally in 2005. In November 2006, Bon Appétit Management Company, in partnership with GotMercury.Org launched a national campaign to educate 200,000 consumers daily in their 400 cafés in 29 states. GotMercury.Org has tested mercury in sushi tuna across the US, receiving national and international media attention about the risks to consumers.

Available Resources:

1. Letter to Benihana by Health and Environmental Groups: http://GotMercury.Org/benihana/benihanaletter20061128.pdf
2. Benihana August 2006 press release on their mercury advisories: http://www.benihana.com/press_releases_detail.asp?id=178
3. GotMercury.Org’s Report on Mercury in Benihana’s Tuna Sushi: http://GotMercury.Org/benihana/benihanareport.pdf
4. FDA and EPA Consumer Advisory on Methylmercury in Fish: http://GotMercury.Org/fda
5. Consumers can calculate their mercury exposure from seafood: http://GotMercury.Org
6. B-roll of mercury in seafood images.
7. Electronic Press Kit: http://GotMercury.Org/press or http://GotMercury.Org/info
8. Interviews with mercury poisoned women and children available.

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