Costco to post FDA mercury advice about seafood, Wal-Mart and Publix refuse
August 10, 2008
Costco Wholesale Corporation has committed to warn its customers about mercury contamination in fish. Costco will post the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mercury advice on signs at seafood counters in all its stores. The move, prompted by requests from Oceana and Costco members, follows similar action by other major grocery chains nationwide.
“With Costco’s customer-oriented decision, more than one in three major grocery stores is now posting the government advice about mercury in fish,” said Jackie Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana. “Signs help shoppers in states like Washington, Oregon and Nevada to make informed choices about what they buy and feed their families. But in other states, shoppers are unlikely to learn about the healthiest fish unless companies like Wal-Mart, A&P and Publix get on board,” Savitz added.
Oceana reports that 36% of major grocery stores nationwide are posting the FDA advice and Washington State now ranks first in the nation for warning shoppers about mercury, with 95 percent of grocery stores posting the FDA advice. Oregon and Nevada follow close behind, while mercury warning signs are almost non-existent in stores in other states, such as Florida and Oklahoma. Most of the remaining major grocery stores in Washington, Oregon and Nevada that continue to resist posting the advice are Wal-Mart (WMT) stores.
Since 2001, the FDA has issued advice about mercury in fish. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency and FDA issued a joint warning for women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children to avoid eating swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel, and to limit consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week or less. The agencies also advised them to eat up to 12 ounces (2 typical meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury. Finally, they advised these groups to check local fish advisories to evaluate the safety of fish caught in local bodies of water.
Mercury is a known neurotoxin that can harm normal brain development in children and may harm adult cardiopulmonary health. Avoiding fish with higher levels of mercury in favor of low mercury fish is a simple way to maximize the health benefits of seafood, while minimizing the risks of consuming mercury. Many types of fish – including wild salmon, trout and sardines — are low in mercury and contain the omega-3 fatty acids needed for optimal heart health.
In 2005, Oceana launched a campaign to urge grocery companies to post the EPA and FDA advice at their seafood counters. In 2006, an Oceana analysis determined that 12 percent of major grocery stores (nearly 3,000 stores) were posting the advice. But according to Oceana’s latest analysis, that figure has more than doubled with about 36 percent (6,400 stores) of the major grocery stores now posting this information at seafood counters. Thus, while the chances are better on the west coast and worse in other states, on average, a U.S. consumer has about a one in three chance of walking into a major grocery store and seeing the FDA advice posted at the point of sale.
“Posting a sign that tells consumers which fish they should avoid would let them know that other fish are OK to eat, and allay any fears they may have,” said Simon Mahan, campaign manager for Oceana and lead author of the report. “In fact, some grocery stores that posted the FDA advice had no negative effect on their seafood sales and one company even reported that seafood sales increased after posting the signs,” he added.
While 36 percent of major stores are posting signs, there is great disparity between states, and even regions, in sign-posting. Beyond top-ranked Washington state, Oregon runs a close second, with 94 percent of stores posting signs. Florida, Iowa and Oklahoma are ranked among the lowest, with only two percent or fewer stores posting signs in those states.