The Checkout

Costco Cautions Against Mercury

Ylan Mui

Costco is the latest retailer to agree to post signs at its seafood counters with the FDA's warnings about consuming mercury in seafood. The move comes after customer requests and an active campaign by environmental advocacy group Oceana.

Oceana began its campaign in 2005 and so far has signed up nearly 6,400 grocery stores at several major chains, including Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Safeway. The FDA's guidance says women who may become pregnant, who are pregnant or who are nursing should stay away from swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel and limit consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week or less. (Time for honesty: I don't even know what tilefish is! Though I do admit that I've eaten shark once or twice.)

Oceana singled out Wal-Mart , which sells more food nationally than any other retailer, and Giant Food , the local market leader, for not responding to requests to post the warnings. A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said she could not reach anyone to comment on the issue. Giant Food spokesman Jamie Miller sent me this statement:

"At Giant, we are committed to providing customers with safe, fresh, wholesome, quality products. Giant works constantly with our seafood suppliers to assure that all of the seafood we sell is safe for consumption. Giant does provide consumers with information on our website specific to mercury in seafood. We continue to monitor the FDA's position on this issue and we continue to comply with all federal, state and local regulations pertaining to food safety."

Of course, the companies can also point to other measures they've taken to educate consumers and improve the quality of their seafood. Last month, I wrote about Wal-Mart's work with the Acquaculture Certification Council on standards for its farmed shrimp. Then, right here on this very blog, we wrote about Giant adopting new standards.

We'll continue to keep you posted on the latest lists of foods to avoid! Mercury-laden seafood, the California beef served at that Boy Scout camp, jalapenos ... I just hope nothing bad happens to broccoli. It's my favorite vegetable!

By Ylan Mui |  August 11, 2008; 7:01 AM ET Consumer Alerts , Consumer News , Consumer Tips , Food Safety , Ylan Mui
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Personaly, I think it's silly to condem a store for not having warnings. What's next, warnings for pregnant woment next to the soft cheese, deli meats, etc? If a store wants to, then it's fine, but at some point, it just goes to far.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 11, 2008 9:58 AM

This is dangerous. The FDA advisory only applies to pregnant women and small children, but everyone will heed it. This is what the Institute of Medicine has called a "spillover effect."

If Costco wants to hamstring itself by selling less fish, that's what it's going to get. Pure stupidity.

Posted by: David | August 11, 2008 1:26 PM

I agree, it's silly and wrong. There are so many warnings about so many things. Not to protect or inform, but to reduce tort liabilty for failing to warn. Pregnant women should be getting nutritional advice from their docs, not from Greenpeace or its contemporaries like Oceana.

Posted by: Anne | August 11, 2008 3:15 PM

There is an irony in that Oceana claims it’s on a mission to educate consumers by advocating for signs in grocery stores but it continues to misinform consumers about the advisory. Guilt by omission-- in its own report on this very subject
Oceana does not take the time to specifically spell out for consumers that the advisory is only for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and children. The context and target audience of the advisory is completely obscured from page one. What’s more just last week Oceana was up to it’s old tricks in the Seattle Post Intelligencer with this statement, "I would be surprised if the average shopper in Seattle knew which fish to avoid. It's hard to keep them straight." Oceana knows full well the advisory is not intended for "the average shopper" and that there are only 4 fish that population should avoid. Education or misinformation?
Gavin Gibbons
National Fisheries Institute

Posted by: Gavin | August 12, 2008 11:32 AM

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