Mercury in fish is now recognized as a major health threat, especially for children, but surveys show that only about two-thirds of the public know which fish are high in mercury. The EPA and FDA issued a joint advisory in 2004, warning women of childbearing age, expecting and nursing mothers and young children to not eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish and to limit their consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks due to high mercury levels. While posting this advice at seafood counters would seem to be a good way to make sure consumers are aware of it, this is not required by the FDA. However, Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, recently released a report showing that many grocery stores are voluntarily posting the Food and Drug Administration’s mercury advice at their seafood counters.

The group has been contacting grocery chains asking them to post the FDA advice for over a year now. Five major chains, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Safeway and Albertsons have agreed to offer their customers the information they need. These companies and their subsidiaries comprise the “Green List”, a distinction given to companies in order to help direct customers to those locations in which they can find the mercury advice posted in seafood sections. However, the majority of chains remain on Oceana’s “Red List” — stores not posting the FDA advice.

The report shows the benefits of providing clear information for consumers at the site of purchase. By placing the signs at grocery counters the stores are offering valuable information on how to prevent unwanted intake of mercury. Consumers can avoid high mercury fish, in favor of low mercury fish, allowing them to get the benefits of fish without the risks.

Interestingly, some states, such as Hawaii, the District of Columbia and Alaska, have almost three quarters of stores posting signs, the rest of the states fall below that percentage, some very far below. In fact, not a single store in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota or West Virginia posts the signs. But these states, while disgracefully last, are not far behind another 16 states that have less than 5% of stores making the FDA advice available. These states leave their citizens with very little chance of receiving this information when they need it most.

Full report: here.

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