Put mercury focus where it belongs


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
February 18, 2009

World environment leaders gathered this week in Nairobi, Kenya, to address the environmental and health impacts of mercury. Hopefully this meeting can turn global attention on this harmful toxin to its true source and how mercury-producing industries can be reformed. And a little seafood education would be nice.

The most notable development at the United Nations Environment Program meeting was the position switch by the United States, which now favors a legally binding international treaty to reduce mercury pollution. American diplomat Daniel Reifsnyder was quoted as saying mercury is the "most important global chemical issue facing us today that calls for immediate action."

If the Obama administration can complete an about-face on mercury (and energy) policy in its first month in office, then maybe it can call a little attention to seafood, which has long been caught in the mercury crossfire. Consumers should know by now that some seafood species contain trace amounts of mercury. But how many know how such a substance ultimately gets into their food?

So much focus gets placed on how mercury enters the human body that it's easy to forget or ignore how it enters the environment. While mercury is a natural component of the earth, mercury pollution is on man's hands. Most studies estimate that coal-burning power plants are responsible for one-third or even half of all mercury emissions. Seafood, as David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom has said, has always been collateral damage in the fight against dirty energy.

Most people don't read scientific journals in their spare time, but they can't help but notice the antics of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which just this week was protesting outside the World Aquaculture Society's Aquaculture America conference in Seattle. Armed with "facts" about fish containing harmful chemicals like mercury, there's no better time to go vegetarian, PETA says. This is what people notice.

It would be a relief to see world leaders not only recognize the source of mercury pollution and regulate it, but to bang the drum about the biggest misconception about mercury, which is that seafood is dangerous. But how can we expect that to happen when the top two U.S. agencies overseeing food and the environment - the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency - can't agree on the issue?

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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