Fearing mercury, groups call U.S. dietary advice ‘shocking’
Two Washington, D.C., organizations have voiced strong opposition to the U.S. federal government’s recent dietary recommendations based on the fears that “high-mercury” albacore tuna would be harmful to pregnant women and their babies.
Environmental Working Group and Mercury Policy Project said the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which released its recommendations last week to the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was wrong to stop warning pregnant women to limit their consumption of albacore tuna.
“It is shocking that a committee advising our government on critical public health decisions got this issue so wrong,” Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG, said. “Pregnant women and children should not eat albacore tuna and other fish high in mercury because this heavy metal is toxic to the nervous system and can undermine a child’s development.”
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of independent experts helping to shape the government’s position on nutrition, said that all adult consumers should make seafood a regular part of their diets. It also concluded that the benefits of seafood consumption outweigh the risks of contaminants, including mercury, a stance embraced by many medical professionals.
“The proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines ignore a substantial body of evidence about the dangers of prenatal mercury exposure,” said Dr. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health. “Study after study has found that children born to women exposed to elevated amounts of mercury during pregnancy suffer deficient brain development and show lower IQs. Such damage can be avoided by choosing fish and shellfish that are low in mercury and high in nutrients.”
“Tuna is responsible for nearly seven times more mercury exposure than the four high-mercury fish that the federal Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women not to eat,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. “So why would the proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that pregnant women eat more of it?
The Dietary Guidelines, updated every five years since 1980, in 2010 recommended that pregnant women avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel and eat species lower in mercury. It said salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel were the healthiest options.
The public is encouraged to view the independent advisory group’s report and provide written comments at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov for a period of 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The public will also have an opportunity to offer oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on 24 March 24.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was first published in 1980. Beginning in 1990, Congress mandated that HHS and USDA release a new edition at least every five years.