- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

Isn’t eating fish to promote good health a no-brainer? Not according to a new Consumer Reports article that claims pregnant women should not eat fish, especially tuna. According to its analysis of Food and Drug Administration data, Consumer Reports says the presence of mercury in fish could endanger the development of a baby’s brain.

The good news is that Consumer Reports is mistaken. The fact is that the fish eaten daily by expectant mothers poses no risk to their babies’ health. The science simply does not say what the article says it does.

The catalyst for this mercury-in-fish scare is a two-year-old Environmental Protection Agency report, which estimated that 630,000 children had blood mercury levels that exceeded the EPA’s Reference Dose. This report has been consistently misrepresented to suggest that hundreds of thousands of women and children are at risk from mercury in fish.

The fact that these women and children might exceed the EPA Reference Dose does not tell us that they are in danger. What the environmentalists have not told the public is that the EPA’s Reference Dose is not the dose at which mercury becomes dangerous. Rather, the Reference Dose is set at a level 10 times lower than the level of mercury that the EPA believes might pose a danger.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that the percentage of women exceeding the EPA’s Reference Dose may be close to zero. Data that is more conservative still finds that 92 percent of women of childbearing age currently consume seafood at a level that does not exceed the EPA’s Reference Dose. Nevertheless, even the 8 percent who do exceed the Reference Dose are not at risk from mercury because of the built-in margin of safety in the EPA’s dose standard.

The best available evidence about the relationship between mercury, seafood and human health confirms that the amount of mercury to which Americans are exposed does not pose a health risk. For example, a 12-year study of children in the Seychelles Islands whose mothers were exposed to mercury from eating ocean seafood found no harmful effects. This was true even though the mothers ate fish 12 to 14 times a week and had blood mercury levels roughly 10 times higher than those levels found in American women.

A series of research articles published last fall in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also measured the risks and benefits of fish consumption. This research found that, because fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which help children’s cognitive development and reduce the risk of heart disease in adults, the benefits of eating fish substantially outweigh the very small risks from mercury. These experts suggested that the best thing would be for everyone to eat more, not less, fish.

The Consumer Reports recommendation appeared only days after Greenpeace and the Sierra Club claimed that, in the largest-ever mercury research project, 1 in 5 women had mercury levels higher than the EPA limit. The problem with this claim further demonstrates how little good science counts in the mercury-in-seafood debate.

The Greenpeace and Sierra Club claim was based upon a report produced by the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Quality Institute. Unfortunately, these two highly-politicized environmental groups released only parts of the report, omitting the Summary and Conclusions section.

The omitted pages of the report make nonsense of the environmentalists’ position. Most striking is the conclusion that among the study participants who consumed the highest amounts of seafood (eight or more servings per month), the average mercury concentration was still well below the EPA Reference Dose.

The problem with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club’s anti-mercury campaign is that it has little to do with science and everything to do with politics. The anti-fish campaign is actually designed to further the radical environmentalists’ larger political goal, which is to eliminate coal-fired power plants via strict controls on mercury emissions.

Coal-fired power plants are the primary source of mercury contamination in fish. Environmental activists know that if they can frighten people over fish (especially the most popular seafood, tuna), they stand a much better chance of securing limits on mercury emissions.

The bottom line is that neither Consumer Reports’ nor the environmentalists’ warnings about avoiding fish have any connection to the facts. Rather, the claim that mercury makes fish unsafe to eat has more to do with schools of political red herrings than with sound science.

John Luik is senior fellow and Patrick Basham is director of the Washington-based Democracy Institute. Their book, “Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade,” is forthcoming from London’s Social Affairs Unit.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide