Mercury misperception


Steven Hedlund

Published on
March 30, 2009

The health hazards associated with methylmercury in fish concerns a growing number of Americans. But are they eating less seafood as a result?
According to The NPD Group's Food Safety Monitor, updated on Monday, 68 percent of Americans are "concerned" about mercury in fish. That's up from 58 percent in 2003, a year before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency issued a mercury advisory warning pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid eating certain seafood species.
So the increase from 2003 to 2009 should surprise no one, since the advisory raised awareness of the presence of mercury in fish.
What should bewilder everyone is the perception that mercury is nearly as dangerous as other health hazards. At 68 percent, the neurotoxin ranks only about 10 percentage points below the top three health hazards - salmonella, E. coli and trans fatty acids - according to the Food Safety Monitor.
Earlier this year, a salmonella outbreak traced to peanuts sickened 600, killed eight and led to one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. Just today, the FDA warned consumers to avoid eating any food containing pistachios because it may contain salmonella. E. coli outbreaks tied to spinach, lettuce and beef have sickened thousands in recent years. And over-consumption of trans fatty acids can perpetuate heart disease - the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
No American has died from mercury toxicity from eating too much fish, yet the neurotoxin continues to be a top food-safety concern. Unless the FDA and EPA revise their wishy-washy mercury advisory, that perception may never change.
But this perception isn't preventing most Americans from eating more seafood, either, just as E. coli isn't stopping most Americans from consuming more beef. The NPD Group reported in 2006 that 28 percent of Americans who eat fish plan to consume more in the next month.
Eating habits are very, very difficult to break.
Best regards,
Steven Hedlund

Read today’s headlines >>

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500