Mercury on the Mind ... Part 3 - Oceana USA
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January 29, 2008

Mercury on the Mind … Part 3

BY: smahan

By now, you may have heard of the studies about mercury in seafood, including ours, Hold the Mercury.  Overall, the studies have found fairly high levels of mercury in fresh tuna, like sushi, from restaurants and grocery stores.  

But our study includes a bit of information equally as shocking as the levels of mercury in fish – that most seafood counter attendants can’t give you accurate information about mercury in seafood.

As part of Oceana’s Stop Seafood Contamination Campaign, we urge grocery companies to post the Food and Drug Administration’s advice concerning mercury in seafood.  However, some have suggested that signs are not needed because counter attendants are so well informed.  

To check the validity of this idea, we had 40 volunteers, including some staff, from all over the country go to grocery stores, and ask this question to seafood counter attendants: “What is the government advice on mercury in seafood for women who are thinking about having kids?”

For your benefit, the FDA advises women of childbearing age and young children to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish while limiting consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks to six ounces or less a week.  But few attendants managed to convey this advice to our volunteers and staff.  Here are a few, golden responses:

*     “Well, my girlfriend eats fish.” – Giant
*    “I don’t know anything about that.” – Costco
*    “If you’re pregnant, don’t eat Chilean sea bass. All the other fish are fine to eat.” – Publix
*    “No, she was unaware of any information. The only thing she knew was that if I wanted to have a boy, I should eat the very large cherrystone clams. If I wanted a girl, I should eat the smaller sized clams.” – The Food Emporium

Now, compare those answers to this one:
*    “At Safeway, the attendant pointed me towards a sign which was on the outside side of the seafood display…The signs warned against eating Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish. They mentioned that canned tuna might contain somewhat less mercury than fresh, and said to limit consumption to 12oz a week. Another sign was devoted entirely to methylmercury descriptions.” – Safeway

Note: Responses are as reported from Oceana staff and volunteers

Overall, nearly 90 percent of respondents either didn’t know about the advice, or gave wrong or incomplete information.  The solution is obvious: all grocery stores should post the FDA advice at the point of sale – just like Safeway, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Trader Joe’s, some Albertsons and most recently, Kroger.  

So, heads-up Giant, Costco, Publix, Giant Eagle and A&P!  Lots of consumers are getting lots of news about mercury in fish – there’s no need to swear off all fish, but that’s just what some might do if the right information isn’t given…more on that later.