PETA distorts USGS mercury study


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
August 30, 2009

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is capitalizing on a recent U.S. Geological Survey study regarding mercury contamination in freshwater fish to scare consumers away from eating seafood.

In a statement released on Monday, PETA likened a seafood-rich diet to a variety of ailments, including hair and memory loss, even though the USGS study, published on 19 August, involved only recreationally caught fish, not commercially harvested fish.

“The smartest thing we can do for our health is skip the fish sticks and tuna salad sandwiches and reach for nutritious vegetarian options instead,” said Paula Moore, a PETA research specialist in Norfolk, Va.

For the study, the USGS tested thousands of fish from 291 rivers and streams across the United States from 1998 to 2005, and every sample contained traces of methylmercury, a neurotoxin.

“This was something I could have told you 30 years ago,” said Charles Santerre, a food toxicologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in an interview with SeafoodSource last week.

“Every person in the world has mercury in their body, so there’s nothing earth shattering about this study,” he explained. “The question is, ‘Can a person be healthy and have mercury in their body?’ Absolutely. It’s the amount of mercury that’s important. At a low dose, mercury is innocuous. It doesn’t help us, but it doesn't hurt us. As the dose increases, the risk increases.”

The National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., urged the mainstream press to report cautiously on the USGS study.

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) in Washington, D.C., called the study “alarmist” and “irresponsible.”

“Using the EPA’s water standards to give fish a skull-and-crossbones is ridiculous,” CCF Director of Research David Martosko said in response to the USGS study. “We’re not talking about lead in paint. Fish is a health food. Study after study has shown that the known health advantages from eating seafood far outweigh any hypothetical health risk.”

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