From: Vicki Smith, Associated Press
Published November 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Consumers Not Warned of Mercury in Fish

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Not a single West Virginia grocery store is warning consumers of the possible dangers of mercury in fish, an environmental group says, even though the state and federal governments have been issuing advisories to anglers for at least two years.

Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based activist group, issued a report this week that concludes fewer than 20 percent of the nation's grocery stores are posting in-store warnings about mercury.

West Virginia is one of four states with zero in-store warnings, the report says. The others are Mississippi, Alabama and North Dakota.

In North Dakota, the state Health Department puts out an advisory for businesses that sell fishing licenses, said Michael Ell, an environmental scientist for the department.

Another publication from the Health Department includes recommendations for women, especially pregnant women, on grocery store fish that contain higher levels of mercury, Ell said. State law does not require the stores to post warnings, he said.

"What we've done is try to make information available," Ell said.

"We don't test a lake or river and not find some level of mercury," Ell said. "It's pretty widespread across the state. We don't have levels that are high enough to issue any kind of bans, but some lakes have concentrations where, in some species of fish, we just advise people to limit their consumption to smaller fish."

Mercury is a toxic metal that can cause nerve damage in humans and is particularly dangerous to children, developing fetuses and women of childbearing age.

Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination, said that while some of the nation's largest grocers are posting Food and Drug Administration recommendations in stores, "many consumers, especially in the Eastern U.S., still are not getting the message."

"We hope that soon the remaining companies will recognize how easily they can protect their customers health," she said.

Methylmercury, a form commonly found in fish, is the type most likely to cause health problems. Some studies suggest that coal-burning power plants are the major source of mercury emissions in the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have focused on ocean fish, recommending that children and women of childbearing age avoid four species -- shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish -- and limit their consumption of tuna to 6 ounces per week.

In September, 45 states issued consumption advisories about locally caught fish.

Oceana says that without in-store signs, most consumers lack the knowledge for good choices.

Its report says stores in Hawaii, the District of Columbia and Alaska are doing the best job of educating consumers, and it put 15 companies on its "green list," including Safeway, Trader Joe's and Albertson's.

Most of the grocery chains that serve West Virginia were on the more than 50-member "red list," including Kroger, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, IGA, Giant Eagle and Save-A-Lot.

Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for North Carolina-based Food Lion LLC, said there is no state or federal law requiring supermarkets to post such information.

Food Lion, which has more than 1,200 stores in 11 Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, directs customers with questions to the FDA's Web site and toll-free number.

"We truly would prefer that the experts with the government provide that information," Lowrance said. It's the FDA that sets guidelines for consumption, "and it's important that consumers go to the best source of information."

Meghan Glynn, a spokeswoman for Ohio-based Kroger Co., said she could not comment on a report she has not seen.

However, Kroger requires all stores to make information about mercury available near the area where seafood is sold, she said. The brochures list information about methylmercury, FDA guidelines, a toll-free number and the FDA's food safety Web site.

Kroger is the nation's largest retail grocery chain with 2,343 stores in 31 states. It also does business as Fred Meyer, Ralph's, Smith's, King Soopers, Dillon, Fry's, City Market, Food 4 Less and Quality Food Centers.

Source: Associated Press

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