Taking issue with Today

By

Gavin Gibbons

Published on
March 31, 2010

When you have a platform like the highest rated morning “news” program for going on two decades, it means you have a large and loyal audience. It also means you have an even greater responsibility to be accurate. Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrase, or some version of it - heavy lies the head that wears the crown. In this case, The Today Show’s diet and nutrition expert, Joy Bauer, gives viewers some almost right nutrition advice on fish. But with the crown firmly placed atop The Today Show’s head, almost isn’t good enough.

Bauer’s consumption suggestions were never explained to pertain only to pregnant women, nursing mothers or women who might become pregnant and even with that sensitive sub population as its target, she didn’t quite get the FDA/EPA advice right. I can’t imagine The Today Show would let a transportation reporter get FAA advice almost right or have her tweak that agency’s recommendation for viewers.

And then she gets into farmed salmon with a very non-scientific, pedestrian take-- while offering almost no perspective and in fact making statements that stand in contrast to a Harvard University School of Public Health study on the matter.

Needless to say, we contacted The Today Show and asked them to review and correct Bauer’s statements. We expect to hear back from them soon. Our letter is below:

March 30, 2010


Jim Bell
Executive Producer
NBC’s Today Show

VIA Email


Dear Mr. Bell,

This morning Today’s diet and nutrition expert, Joy Bauer, shared nutrition advice about fish that is inconsistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.  The advice is, first and foremost, only for the population of women who are or may become pregnant, nursing moms, and young children.  Ms. Bauer fails to identify this target audience.  Next, her guidance on tuna is not in agreement with the federal advice.  Here is that advice, verbatim:

“Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.”

In summary, for the target population, 12 ounces of a variety of fish per week are safe and healthful.  As much as half (6 ounces) can be albacore tuna or tuna steaks.

Next, Ms. Bauer turns viewers to two websites put together by environmental activist – not health or nutrition – organizations.  These groups’ “good fish/bad fish” pocket guides conflict with reputable nutrition advice and suggest avoidance of a large swath of the seafood Americans eat.  If people actually cut the “red” species from their diets these cards suggest, seafood consumption would drop significantly and conditions like heart disease would sky rocket.

Lastly, the information Ms. Bauer provides about the safety of farm-raised salmon is not in line with the latest science on this issue. A 2006 study out of Harvard School of Public Health looked exhaustively into this issue, and found the following:

-Among adults, major dietary sources of PCBs and dioxins are beef, chicken, and pork (34% of total exposure); dairy products (30%); vegetables (22%); fish and shellfish (9%); and eggs (5%).

- When PCBs and dioxins were measured in farmed and wild salmon, levels were similar to those in several other foods.

- Prospective studies in humans have seen little evidence for effects of fish (farm-raised or wild) intake on cancer risk.

- Avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children.

We ask that you correct Ms. Bauer’s work in order to provide your viewers with the best possible independent information about seafood and nutrition. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Gavin Gibbons
National Fisheries Institute

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