NY Times: EPA to Conduct Mercury Tests

The New York Times reports today that the Environmental Protection Agency's New York office will test mercury levels in the area's 20 most commonly eaten fish, including tuna.

In todayâ??s story, "More Testing of Seafood to Address Mercury Concerns," the Times quoted Mary Anne Hansan, VP of communications for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., which was extremely critical of the Times' recent coverage of mercury in sushi-grade tuna.

"What we are hearing is a lot of consumer confusion about what to believe when it comes to seafood," Hansan said.

The newspaper reported last Wednesday that recent laboratory tests showed a majority of tuna purchased last fall at 20 New York sushi restaurants and retail stores contained mercury levels that surpassed the federal action level of 1 part per million. According to the report, five of the locations served sushi-grade tuna with mercury levels so high that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market. Most of the samples were bluefin tuna.

NFI panned the story as "erroneous" and "alarmist, activist-driven journalism at its worst [that] should be treated with extreme skepticism." Citing overwhelming scientific evidence of seafoodâ??s health benefits, NFI said the Times' biased and unbalanced sources provided information that "may cause unnecessary public alarm and other harms."

Among NFI's chief complaints about the article was the omission of documented health benefits associated with consuming seafood and the fact that the FDA's methylmercury action level includes a ten-fold safety factor.

NFI subsequently sent out informational leaflets to its member companies that gave suggestions on how to deal with customers' concerns about mercury in seafood.

In a separate article in today's Times, "Taking Worry Off the Plate," reporter Nick Fox writes that controlling the amount of mercury in your diet does not have to mean avoiding seafood. "You can eat a plate of salmon almost every day of the week," the article states. "The same with fish fillet sandwiches, which are usually made from pollock. Both of those fish are on the New York City Health Department's list of seafood that women of childbearing age and young children can eat five times a week without risk from mercury."

In 2004, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency released a joint advisory that warned pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of childbearing age and young children to avoid eating swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark due to elevated levels of methylmercury and to limit consumption of canned albacore, or white, tuna to 6 ounces weekly.

The advisory also recommended that consumers in the at-risk category eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of seafood low in methylmercury, such as salmon, pollock, catfish and canned skipjack, or light, tuna.


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