Thursday, October 20, 2005

Safeway Inc., one of the nation’s largest grocery chains, this week agreed to post warnings about mercury in seafood at its stores nationwide.

The Pleasanton, Calif., supermarket chain has displayed mercury health-warning signs at the seafood counters of its California stores for the past year.

The warnings, which were mandated by California law in 2004, advise consumers, primarily pregnant women and children, to limit their intake of certain fish and seafood products that contain large amounts of mercury.

Safeway decided to expand the warning system to its other stores in response to a three-year campaign by the Turtle Island Restoration Network, a San Francisco environmental and health group, said company spokesman Greg TenEyck.

Safeway plans to post the warnings in its 177 stores in the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia areas in the coming weeks, Mr. TenEyck said.

“A lot of people already know these warnings, but it’s an extra layer of dissemination of this important health information,” he said.

Mr. TenEyck said he was uncertain if the health signs in the California stores have resulted in lower seafood sales.

So far, Safeway and Wild Oats Markets Inc., a Boulder, Colo., organic grocery chain, are the only retailers that have posted mercury warnings on a storewide basis, said Todd Steiner, director for the environmental group.

“Now it’s up to other stores to provide a similar service to maintain customer trust,” he said.

The environmental group plans to lobby other retailers, such as Wal-Mart, and restaurants to additionally set up warnings signs.

Almost one-third, or 31 percent, of U.S. consumers this year reported being concerned about the level of mercury in fish and shellfish, according to a report released last week by the University of Maryland.

As a result, 43 percent of the 1,040 adult customers interviewed said they cut back on the amount of seafood they eat, said the report, which was done by Opinion Research Corp., a Princeton, N.J., market research company.

Satisfied health care

A little more than half of Americans were satisfied with their health care service this year despite the overall rising cost in health care, according to a recent study.

The annual report, which was released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that 54 percent of consumers reported satisfaction with their health insurance coverage.

That measure increased from last year’s rate of 47 percent, the Washington nonprofit, public-policy organization said. The study, which was conducted by the institute and D.C. market research firm Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc., surveyed 1,003 adults.

“Satisfaction with health care quality is high, but few are happy about the cost of health care,” said Dallas Salisbury, president for the institute.

About 28 percent of consumers were satisfied with their insurance costs in 2005, up from 25 percent in 2004.

About half of the respondents said the costs for their insurance, prescription drugs, doctor visits and out-of-pocket expenses increased this year.

To combat the rising costs, 79 percent of consumers chose generic drugs when available, while 40 percent delayed going to the doctor, the report said.

• Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail her at

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