Safeway to Offer Too Little on Mercury Warnings

By June 9, 2005Got Mercury?

Proposed Safeway brochure will not protect customers
San Francisco, CA –This week’s announcement in Supermarket News that Safeway will offer a mercury-warning brochure to customers is being cautiously welcomed by environmental groups as being a good first step at protecting the public from the mercury-contaminated fish being sold across the country at Safeway and Safeway-owned stores.

Safeway’s announcement follows last week’s placement of a full page ad in the New York Times, which asks, “…why aren’t they [Safeway] protecting all their customers from mercury poisoning?”. Safeway is posting mercury-warning signs in California but is neglecting to do so in other states. Turtle Island Restoration Network who placed the ad 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.

“We are pleased that Safeway is moving in the right direction regarding notifying customers and that Safeway is acknowledging that there is a problem with the fish they are selling. ” says Andy Peri, Public Health Analyst for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “A brochure by itself, however, is not enough to protect all customers from dangerous levels of mercury in seafood”

In California, Safeway is posting warnings in many of the locations where they sell contaminated fish, but not all. Safeway is failing to post or inadequately posting warning signs in 85% of 123 store visits throughout California.

“Safeway needs to take this issue more seriously”, says Peri. Mercury is a very dangerous substance that exists in fish at levels that can cause serious defects in children.

Seafood customers continue to write hundreds of letters to Safeway’s CEO, Steven Burd asking him to require mercury warning signs nationwide.

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 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

Additional Resources

1. B-roll footage
2. Mercury Calculator:
3. E-press kit:
4. Annotated Ad: downloads/SafewayAdAnnotated2.doc