Believe this, not that


Gavin Gibbons

Published on
November 18, 2011

When the authors of the popular book “Eat This Not That” decided to take on fish this week apparently they also decided to abandon the idea that authors should a.) do research and b.) that said research should be accurate. In the following letter we ask their editors to, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but do their job.

The following is a letter NFI sent to Kevin Donahue, managing editor of Men’s Health, and Allison Drury, Yahoo senior manager of health and medicine, in response to the 14 November article “5 Fish You Should Never Eat:

Dear Mr. Donahue and Ms. Drury,

I am writing to express serious concern about David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding’s recent article, “5 Fish You Should Never Eat.”

Throughout the article the authors present poorly, if at all, sourced claims about seafood and mightily distort perspective.  

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

The authors fail to mention when warning consumers away from Atlantic Bluefin tuna that, per capita, Americans eat less than the weight of a few paperclips worth of Bluefin annually. The first fish they “warn” about is one that is almost never eaten in this country. What’s more, without researching the issue on their own, they refer to a January 2008 New York Times story as a “recent analysis” and fail to note that said story distorted data, confused consumers and was subsequently publicly discredited by Time magazine,, The Center for Independent Media and the Times’ own public editor. They begin the column by referring to the new USDA Dietary Guidelines, but while wildly exaggerating the impact of mercury, neglect to quote from the same Guidelines that clearly state, “the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks.”

Atlantic Salmon

Their critique of Atlantic Salmon consists completely of talking points from environmentalists who oppose salmon farming. There appears to have been little or no research done into the actual state of Atlantic Salmon. Nowhere do they mention that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports, “Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the United States meets high environmental and health standards and is involved in improving best practices for aquaculture worldwide.” 

Atlantic Flatfish

The gross oversimplification of the sustainability facts surrounding flounder, sole, and halibut, in warning against all Atlantic Flatfish, is not only absurd, it’s almost comical. In this case, the authors appear to have simply done no research at all. NOAA provides publicly available data on all of the fish in this category. Had they bothered to tap into that data base they would have found that in the case of flounder there are four stocks some of which are “very healthy and are harvested at sustainable levels.” Some are at 100, 200, and 300 percent above optimal populations. Others that have seen fishing pressures are “expected to be fully rebuilt by 2013” or have had new measures put in place to help rebuild. Likewise, Sole has six stocks, only one of which is “considered overfished.” Here’s how the other five are described: “abundant and harvested at sustainable levels;” “population levels are high and no overfishing is occurring;” “abundant and harvested at sustainable levels;” “populations have recovered and are now extremely abundant;” and “very abundant.”  As far as halibut, the same database reveals that its populations are healthy. And their insistence that these fish contain “heavy contamination” is completely erroneous and unsourced.

Imported King Crab

Their musings about crab note nowhere that Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws require that stores label where the product has been imported from. It’s actually easy for consumers to determine where the crab they are buying comes from regardless of the product name.

Imported Shrimp

With this section of the article, the sheer lack of knowledge and even elementary research about seafood applied to this article is on full display. Nowhere do the authors note that this country’s largest retailer and this country’s largest grocer both only source imported farmed shrimp that is certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA.) And many, many other establishments have certification policies as well. Such certifications are in place to ensure the exclusion of the varied ills they write about so cavalierly. They go so far as to parrot a time honored activist distortion by noting that, “less than 2 percent of all imported seafood gets inspected.” They are either unaware or choose to obscure the fact that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) structure that oversees seafood is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, an operation that controls for hazards throughout the value chain and does not simply sit at the dock and wait to inspect food as it comes in. So fundamental is the distortion of how the FDA system works, it raises serious questions about how much if any independent research was done in preparing for this piece.

A new report, just released in September, by the World Health Organization and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization is very clear that people who communicate about seafood need to explain not only the benefits of eating seafood but the public health problems associated with not eating seafood. Independent Harvard University research estimates that low seafood intake is responsible for somewhere in the neighborhood of 85,000 preventable deaths a year. Poorly written and researched articles like this one contribute to preventable deaths and public health problems by unnecessarily scaring people away from seafood.

We ask that in the interest of giving your readers access to accurate health and nutrition information, you give registered dietitian Jennifer McGuire MS, RD equal space to discuss the health effects of eating seafood.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.  I look forward to working with you.

Gavin Gibbons, National Fisheries Institute

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