NFI Condemns Times Over Mercury Story

The National Fisheries Institute on Thursday called the New York Times' Wednesday report on mercury in sushi-grade tuna ''erroneous'' and ''alarmist, activist-driven journalism at its worst [that] should be treated with extreme skepticism.''

In the story, ''High Mercury Levels Are Found in Tuna Sushi,'' Times reporter Marian Burros wrote about laboratory tests that showed that sushi-grade tuna purchased at 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants had mercury levels that surpassed the federal government's action level. Whatâ??s more, five of the locations sold tuna with mercury levels so high that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could have taken legal action to remove the fish from the market. The FDA rarely takes such action.

But the McLean, Va., seafood industry trade association says the report contradicts broadly held medical advice that tuna and other kinds of fish are essential to a healthy diet. Additionally, NFI said the Times' biased and unbalanced sources provided information that ''may cause unnecessary public alarm and other harms.''

NFI contacted the Times and requested specific corrections and clarifications. The newspaper promised a response in writing but gave no clear timetable, said an NFI spokesperson during a conference call.

''On issues of public health, the standards for accuracy and objectivity ought to be at their highest,'' said Mary Anne Hansan, VP of communications for NFI. ''Instead, the Times produced a wildly inaccurate, repeatedly erroneous story that has endangered critical public understanding of fish consumption. We intend to hold them accountable for this journalism misconduct and to set the record straight.''

NFI's chief complaints about the article included the omission of documented health benefits associated with consuming seafood and the fact that the FDA's methylmercury ''action level'' of 1 part per million includes a ten-fold safety factor.

New York has been center stage for recent developments in the mercury-in-seafood story. Last summer, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that one in four New York City residents had elevated levels of mercury in their blood due to fish consumption. The city then released a brochure titled, ''Eat Fish, Choose Wisely,'' which listed fish by mercury level.

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 four species of seafood - swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark - due to elevated levels of methylmercury and to limit consumption of canned albacore, or white, tuna to no more than 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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