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Safeway Expands Mercury in Seafood Warning Signs Nationwide

San Francisco, CA – Safeway, the nation’s fifth largest grocery store chain, has just expanded its mercury in seafood health warnings nationwide. Previously, Safeway only posted mercury in fish warnings in California, as required under state law Proposition 65. Now, women and children in Safeway stores will receive fish advisories at seafood counters based on an existing federal health advisory.

“Safeway customers who have questions about mercury in seafood issue will have the opportunity to make seafood choices with confidence,” said Eli Saddler, attorney and public health specialist with GotMercury.Org of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Since 2002, Turtle Island Restoration Network, an environmental and health nonprofit, has been harnessing public support and California law to accomplish the posting of mercury in seafood warning signs, in California and nationwide. Saddler believes Safeway’s decision comes as a response to customer concerns, as well as ongoing pressure from the public and environmental groups like Turtle Island, which included protests at stockholder meetings and at stores across the nation. Additionally, Turtle Island has run two full-page ads that called out Safeway for its failure to expand its warnings outside of California while it was promoting its image as healthy place to shop.

California grocery stores post warnings under a 1986 state law Proposition 65, a consumer right to know statute. Prop 65 requires businesses selling products known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm to warn customers. Turtle Island Restoration Network and the As You Sow Foundation filed the original notice of intent to sue supermarkets and restaurants for failure to post Prop 65 warnings in 2002. California’s Attorney General continues the lawsuit against major grocery chains, such as Safeway, and has settled with major restaurant chains. California’s warning signs are based on the March 2004 FDA and EPA advisory on methylmercury in fish.

The call for national warning signs is growing. For example, on August 6, 2002, Turtle Island ran a full page ad in The New York Times calling for better mercury public advisories. In June 2, 2005, Turtle Island ran another New York Times ad specifically targeting Safeway. In 2003, both the California Medical Association and American Medical Association called for warnings signs at point of purchase. Turtle Island Restoration Network partnered with Oceana to run a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on September 28, calling for all major grocery chains to warn consumers about the risks of mercury in fish. “Safeway has joined a national trend of grocery stores posting mercury in seafood warnings, especially to mothers and children, who are most at risk,” Eli Saddler, attorney and public health specialist with GotMercury.Org of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We will continue to monitor the advisory signs in the Safeway stores nationwide and to call upon all major food retailers to follow the lead of Wild Oats and Safeway.”

Wild Oats was the first national natural foods retailer to post warning signs in all of their stores advising consumers to limit or avoid certain mercury-tainted seafood.

“Educated consumers make confident choices about which seafood is lower in mercury and safer to eat. We are glad that Safeway has heeded national calls for warning signs,” said Todd Steiner, Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. He added, “Now, it’s up to other stores to provide a similar service to maintain customer trust.”

Methylmercury – the organic form of mercury found at high levels in some fish – is a potent neurotoxin that can cause nervous system and brain damage in developing fetuses, infants, and young children. According to the EPA, one in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. has unsafe blood levels of mercury. This translates to potentially 630,000 babies at risk of mercury exposure in the womb in the U.S. annually. Yet the FDA estimates that between one third and half of women are unaware of the risk. Methylmercury also causes neurological damage, cardiac disease, and birth defects. Human mercury comes primarily from the consumption of seafood.

Available Resources

1. Consumers can calculate their mercury exposure from fish at www.gotmercury.org.
2. B-roll
3. Electronic Press Kit available at www.seaturtles.org/prog_camp2.cfm?campaignID=20
4. Interviews with mercury poisoned women and children available.
5. Mercury in swordfish report at www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=227
6. FDA and EPA Consumer Advisory on Methylmercury in Fish at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html.

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GotMercury.org is project of the Mercury Education and Response Campaign (MERC) of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). TIRN is a California-based marine conservation and public health advocacy organization that works to protect sea turtles and other marine species around the world while protecting the public from mercury in seafood. For more information, please visit: www.seaturtles.org.

For more information on mercury in seafood and marine species protection, please visit the TIRN website at: http://www.seaturtles.org/prog_camp2.cfm?campaignID=20