Mercury Advisory Needs Facelift


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
December 14, 2008

Friday’s edition of the Washington Post served up some of the most promising news the seafood industry has seen in what has been a tough year. As sales decline during a complex and confounding economic downturn, it’s comforting that at least part of the U.S. government wants federal seafood-consumption guidelines to actually advise consumers to eat plenty of seafood, perhaps the healthiest protein source on the planet.

The Post reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to amend the 2004 FDA-Environmental Protection Agency joint advisory to encourage all consumers to eat more fish, preferably 12 ounces a week of fish rich with omega-3 fatty acids. That’s all consumers, including the target group of that 2004 advisory: women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children.

Top scientists and nutritionists have been saying for years that the health benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the potential risks, even from methylmercury; many experts say the real health risk is not eating enough seafood. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in 2005 wrote that limiting fish consumption could lead to an increased risk of “adverse health outcomes.”

“It’s about time the federal government began an about-face on seafood and health,” says David Martosko, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, D.C., and a vocal opponent of the fear mongering that often accompanies news stories about mercury in seafood. “The 2004 advisory was wrong-headed, hyper-precautionary and blind to an awful lot of good science.”

Now’s the time to pressure newly elected leaders to follow through on the FDA’s change of heart and create meaningful change, says John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va.

“President-elect Obama should make updating the seafood advisory a priority,” says Connelly. “We believe the advisory should be amended to reflect the current state of science within the first 100 days of the Obama administration.”

The EPA needs to reverse its current thinking on mercury and allow this change to be made, despite the controversy and backlash that would certainly follow. Overwhelming scientific evidence released since the 2004 advisory has determined that seafood is health food. The U.S. government should use the best and most recent science available. There’s plenty out there — it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Thank you,
James Wright
Assistant Editor
SeaFood Business

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