U.S. group’s mercury-in-fish findings disputed

Published on
November 8, 2010

Seafood industry representatives are contesting the latest mercury findings by Operation Safe Seafood, a GotMercury.org-led project.

Operated by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in Forest Knolls, Calif., GotMercury.org tested mercury levels in seafood in a few U.S. cities this year. Released last month, its latest report on mercury levels in swordfish, tuna and other fish purchased at Destin, Fla.-area supermarkets is drawing criticism.

Seven out of 17 fish samples bought at grocery stores such as Winn-Dixie and Publix registered levels of mercury well above the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s total allowable level of 1 part per million, according to Operation Safe Seafood’s October report. “Three of the five swordfish samples and four of the 12 tuna samples exceeded 1 ppm,” said the report.

However, the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., contested GotMercury.org’s methods and findings.

“We are not talking about published research here. We are talking about middle school science fair-level tinkering,” said NFI spokesman Gavin Gibbons. “As for their claims that some samples tested above the FDA’s 1 ppm standard, perhaps they are unaware of the fact that said standard includes a 1,000 percent safety factor. So, in order to even begin to reach the lowest mercury level associated with concern, a sample would have to exceed that standard by ten-fold.”

GotMercury.org-tested seafood samples in Destin because it is concerned about mercury contamination in Gulf of Mexico seafood since the oil spill.

“We, alongside other organizations, have been very skeptical that Gulf seafood is being tested adequately before fishing areas were opened up,” said Buffy Martin Turbox, campaign manager for GotMercury.org.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has not told GotMercury.org which contaminants it is testing for in Gulf seafood, so the group’s officials worry that higher-than-usual levels of mercury, naturally occurring in oil, could be found in the seafood.

However, the group’s Destin-area findings are misleading since the seafood tested most likely did not come from Gulf of Mexico waters, say critics.

“Operation Safe Seafood has provided zero evidence as to where the seafood they tested actually came from,” said Gibbons. “Lobbing unsupportable barbs at safe, healthy Gulf seafood, while attempting to confuse consumers about the safety of all seafood, is par for the course with this group.”

Meanwhile, GotMercury.org is urging the stores where the fish was purchased to post warning signs, advising pregnant and nursing women and young children to avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish and to limit consumption of fresh or frozen tuna, which is in line with the FDA’s seafood-consumption advisory.

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