Letter: FDA must revise fish-consumption advice


Steven Hedlund

Published on
March 13, 2011

U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) on Monday urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revise its seafood-consumption advice for pregnant and nursing women in light of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which for the time encourage consumers to eat seafood at least twice a week for heart and brain health. Updated every five years, the new dietary guidelines were released in late January.

Since 2004, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency has warned pregnant and nursing women and young children to limit seafood intake to 12 ounces per week, limit albacore tuna intake to 6 ounces per week and avoid consuming swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish altogether due to the health risks associated with the neurotoxin methylmercury.

In a 10 March letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Gillibrand and Coburn said the FDA-EPA advisory is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent recommendation and with scientific research confirming that the health benefits of eating seafood regularly far outweigh the risk.

“While the [FDA-EPA advisory] is in many ways medically accurate, the recommendations communicate an overly risk-averse, precautionary principle that has led to unhealthy reductions in seafood consumption among pregnant women,” they said in the letter. Citing the dietary guidelines, they said “the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women,” and seafood’s nutritional value “is of particular importance” during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood.

Gillibrand went on to say in a press release on Monday that reduced seafood consumption is “causing harm to fetal and child development.”

“Consumers look to FDA for the most reliable source for dietary advice, yet their guidelines are six years old and inconsistent with more recent recommendations,” she said. “As a mother and a lawmaker, it is critical that the FDA provide the most up-to-date and scientific information on seafood consumption. Parents need this information to make educated decision for their families.”

Gillibrand and Coburn asked Hamburg to respond to their letter within 30 days, including the FDA’s plans to update the 2004 advisory to be consistent with new dietary guidelines.

The letter is singed by 16 other congressmen and congresswomen, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

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