Oceana Urges Mercury Alerts as Lent Approaches

Oceana, an international ocean conservation group based in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday urged retailers Giant Eagle and Costco to post signs in their stores warning customers about the dangers of consuming seafood due to mercury.

Citing ''independent laboratory testing'' of 94 samples of fish and sushi bought in 26 U.S. cities, Oceana revealed that the mercury content of fresh tuna and swordfish samples approached or exceeded levels that may pose risks to human health, particularly children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

Oceana describes the test results in a new report titled, ''Hold the Mercury: How to Avoid Mercury When Buying Fish.'' The timing of the reportâ??s release was intended to coincide with the upcoming Catholic tradition of Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday (Feb. 6) until Easter (March 23). Practicing Catholics avoid eating meat on Fridays and often choose seafood as an alternative.

''We were shocked that mercury levels in tuna were as high as those in many of the fish on FDA's 'do not eat' list. If seafood is on the Lent menu, wild salmon or tilapia might be a safer choice so women and kids can get the nutritional benefits of fish without the risks," Oceana Senior Campaign Director Jacqueline Savitz said in a prepared statement. ''Unfortunately, most shoppers will not get that message until grocery chains like Costco, Giant Eagle and others get with the program and start posting signs for their customers.''

In 2006 Oceana placed major U.S. grocers on a ''green'' or ''red'' list, based on whether they displayed signs with the federal government's mercury warning. Currently, the largest chains on Oceana's green list are Albertsons, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market, while the red list includes Publix, Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Costco, Wal-Mart and many others.

In 2004, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency released a joint advisory that warned pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of childbearing age and young children to avoid eating four species of seafood - swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark - due to elevated levels of methylmercury and to limit consumption of canned albacore, or white, tuna to no more than 6 ounces weekly.

The advisory also recommended that consumers in the at-risk category eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of seafood low in methylmercury, such as salmon, pollock, catfish and canned skipjack, or light, tuna.


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