More than 2,000 Oceana activists across America signed up to stage a coordinated appeal to their local grocers to post signs wherever any fish subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory are sold. Organized by Oceana, the endeavor was coupled with the launch today of an on-line petition directed at the FDA, asking the agency to require that signs clearly stating which types of fish should be avoided be posted nationally at seafood counters and on tuna shelves. Both efforts follow news last week that FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford had advised California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that he would oppose state efforts to require mercury warning labels on tuna in grocery stores.
“We commend the people of California, and in particular Attorney General Lockyer, who have led the way with their own right-to-know law, Proposition 65, which requires supermarkets to provide warnings when their products expose shoppers to harmful contaminants like mercury,” said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign. “Attorney General Lockyer has forcefully stood up for California’s families, the FDA should do the same.”
In Crawford’s letter to Lockyer, the commissioner claimed that the FDA’s advisory on mercury in seafood provides sufficient notice to the public about the risks of eating mercury-contaminated fish. On the contrary, a national poll showed that 66 percent of the public did not know that mercury in tuna and swordfish was a serious problem[i]. The same poll, commissioned by Oceana and conducted in late 2004 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, showed strong public backing for posting warning signs, with 86 percent of respondents supporting such a requirement.
“Apparently the FDA doesn’t want to publicize its own advice to the people who need it most: consumers,” said Savitz. “Commissioner Crawford says the FDA is doing enough to protect families from mercury in seafood. He will soon see that thousands of people across the country disagree and are willing to do their part to help educate others.”
“I have a 10 ½ month-old baby, and I had no idea about the mercury problem until I heard about it through Oceana,” said Doshia Mundy, a 39-year old secretary from Anniston, Alabama who personally delivered warning signs to 11 grocery stores in her area. “It really worries me thinking about how much fish we eat, and I doubt I’m the only person who doesn’t have all the information I need to make the right choices for my family.”
In early June, Oceana sent letters to several major grocery chains, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco, Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Trader Joe’s and Royal Ahold, owners of Giant and Stop-n-Shop, requesting that they post signs in their stores to help consumers make educated choices when buying mercury-contaminated seafood. To date, none have agreed to do so.
“Posting signs in grocery stores is a simple, inexpensive solution that fulfills our fundamental right to know what’s in the food we buy, especially when it may be harmful to our family’s health,” said Savitz.
A scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that one in six American women has enough mercury in her blood to pose neurological risks to her developing baby. Although it is particularly damaging to developing fetuses, who become contaminated when the mother has high levels of mercury in her system, toxic mercury also poses health risks to adults. Studies show that high mercury levels can cause neurological damage and memory loss, increase the risk of heart attack, and lead to several other health problems.
For more information about Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign or to sign Oceana’s online petition to the FDA, visit www.oceana.org/mercury.
The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Dec. 8-12, 2004, had a sample size of 800 people representing each of the nation’s 50 states, and a margin of error of +/- 3.5 %.