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PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway labeled as "inaccurate and misleading" a campaign launched today by an environment group that is critical of the chain for not warning customers nationwide about mercury-contaminated seafood.
The group, Turtle Island Restoration Network, based in San Francisco, was expected to run a full-page ad about its campaign in the national edition of The New York Times today. The environmental group said its campaign was launched in the wake of stalled talks with the chain's upper Safeway management, during which it had been urging Safeway to place mercury-in-seafood health warning signs to all 1,802 stores throughout the United States and Canada. Most of California's Safeway units already have warning signs at fish counters, which the environmental organization said is required by California's Proposition 65.
"Safeway should be taking a leadership role and live up to its new 'Ingredients for Life' marketing campaign, by posting signs in their stores throughout the nation," said Andy Peri, public health analyst for Turtle Island Restoration Network. "Is mercury-contaminated fish an ingredient for 'life' or an ingredient for illness and possible death?"
Safeway yesterday vigorously defended its existing approach to disseminating information to consumers about the seafood it carries. "We feel that the best way to educate our customer is by putting information about the health values of seafood and the precautions into a take-away brochure available at our seafood counters," Teena Massingill, manager of corporate public affairs, told PROGRESSIVE GROCER. "Posting a sign will pose more questions than it would answer."
"Labeling is a decision that is made at the state and federal level," she added. "We
defer to those government agencies' guidelines and regulations on labeling."
Massingill derided Turtle Island Restoration Network's ad as "inaccurate and misleading. Safeway sells nothing but the highest quality of seafood, and we have very strict safety standards. The Turtle Island Restoration Network is needlessly engaging in scare
Campaign organizers, meanwhile, said the ad is the start of a larger effort. "You can expect to see grassroots activists from our growing coalition of organizations in front of Safeway supermarkets in your neighborhood soon," said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. The group's Web site, www.seaturtles.org, encourages visitors to send e-mails to Safeway's c.e.o. Steven Burd, asking him to require mercury warning signs nationwide.
The group launched a similar campaign against Whole Foods Market in 2003.