The Beacon

The FDA's Mercury Meltdown

Today, the Washington Post published a disturbing story on the government’s seafood consumption advisory. As you’re probably aware, the current advisory came from an Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration joint effort back in 2004. The current advisory urges:

• Women of childbearing age and young children should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish.
• These groups should also limit their consumption of fresh and albacore tuna to 6 ounces or less a week.
• They can also eat a variety of up to 12 ounces of lower mercury seafood in a week.

However, the Washington Post reports that FDA wants to weaken the advisory based on research on “omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals.” Meanwhile, the EPA feels that the FDA suggestion is "scientifically flawed and inadequate" and it doesn’t maintain "scientific rigor routinely demonstrated by EPA."

So why did the FDA suggest to change the advice? We all expect the FDA to do what’s best for us, but it has a history of bowing to the demands of commercial interests. It’s likely there’s no coincidence that the biggest mercury-nay-sayers (FishScam and the National Fisheries Institute) argue that mercury in seafood isn’t a problem because of “omega-3 fatty acids” and “selenium” – the same reasons FDA cited. This shouldn’t instill confidence since FishScam and NFI get some of their funding from Big Tuna.

According to Oceana’s Seafood Campaign director, Jackie Savitz, weakening the advice would do a disservice to children, who are most likely to suffer the effects of mercury. “With one in ten women still carrying enough mercury to cause developmental effects on their children, weakening the advice is the last thing FDA should be doing. The science shows that we can all get the omega-3’s we need while staying within the FDA seafood consumption advice, and the push to weaken it can be seen for what it is: nothing more than a tuna marketing strategy.”

Of course seafood can be a part of a healthy diet – one serving of salmon can safely supply most people’s weekly omega-3 needs . But women of childbearing age and young children should steer clear of higher mercury fish like swordfish and should rarely eat fresh tuna. For now, stick to the current advice and eat low mercury seafood.

[Simon Mahan is the campaign projects manager for Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination]

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