The Beacon: smahan's blog

Want Energy Independence? Don't Look to Drilling.

Source: Department of Energy, Annual Energy Outlook, April 2010

After the Deepwater Drilling Disaster began 17 days ago, we’ve all tried to figure out why we should continue to expand drilling offshore.

For those who think it’s because it will help us achieve energy independence, think again. There is no way that we can drill our way to energy independence – and the government knows it.

Right now, we get about 65% of our oil from other countries, the biggest sources being Canada and Mexico. And government studies show that all the oil in US waters wouldn’t change that figure much. It would only lower it to about 60% at best. A government study expected to come out soon shows that even that much is unlikely.

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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."

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O' Canada!

Some Americans tend to view Canada in terms of maple syrup, hockey, Mounties, bacon and Jim Carrey.

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It's Lonely at the Top ...

As I wrote the other day, Kroger and Harris Teeter grocery companies are now posting the Food and Drug Administration advice about mercury in seafood.  This is great news!  Kroger is the second biggest grocery company in the United States (guess who's No. 1 ...) and now represents a huge chunk on Oceana's list of good grocers posting the FDA advice - the Green List.

Harris Teeter's commitment comes in response to Oceana's most recent report, Hold the Mercury, about high mercury levels in fish from supermarkets and sushi joints.  

Yes, things are really looking up for health-conscientious shoppers, thanks to companies like Kroger and Harris Teeter.  In fact, the No. 2 (Kroger), No. 3 (SuperValu) and No. 4 (Safeway) grocers are already posting signs at most or all of their stores. ... Must be lonely up at the top, eh Wal-Mart?

In the meantime, be sure to ask the Food Marketing Institute to make a sign for Wal-Mart and all grocers to post.

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Fish on Fridays ...

Last Wednesday was first day of Lent -- a time when many Christians around the world fast for 40 days before Easter.  As part of that fasting, Catholics are asked to abstain from eating meat on Fridays and usually choose fish as the entrée alterative (sales of some seafood increases to the tune of up to 40 percent during Lent!).  However, this Lent is different from others -- there's been a lot of news lately about high mercury levels in some fish.  

So how can a good Christian keep the fast without getting loaded up on quicksilver?  

Stay away from high mercury fish like swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel of course!  The Food and Drug Administration has issued this very advice warning women of childbearing age and children due to the negative health effects related to consuming high mercury fish.  The FDA goes further and advises these people to limit consumption of albacore (white) tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces or less a week.  

Just in time for Lent, Kroger and Harris Teeter grocery companies have vowed to post the FDA advice at their seafood counters.  Nearly 30 percent of the major grocery company stores are posting the FDA advice nationwide.  Maybe it would be a good time for Costco, A&P, Giant Eagle and Publix to join this trend and protect their customers - especially during Lent.

Until then, check out Oceana's seafood guide to pick low-mercury, sustainable seafood options.

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Mercury on the Mind ... Part 4

Over the past week, tons of interest about mercury in seafood has circulated - partly bec

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Mercury on the Mind ... Part Two

Still reeling over all the mercury-in-seafood news (or just catching up)? Basically, in the past two weeks four independent newspaper studies (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, New York Times), a private company (MASI) and a non-profit (Oceana, woo hoo!) showing that mercury levels can be quite high in fresh tuna and swordfish. To put these reports in context, let's cover a couple items. ...

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency issued a joint advisory warning women of childbearing age to avoid eating shark, king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish while limiting consumption of albacore tuna and fresh tuna (like tuna steaks and sushi) to six ounces or less a week.

The FDA has some data on these fish in question. For instance, king mackerel (one of the fish to "avoid") samples from the FDA have an average mercury level of 0.73 parts per million.

Oceana's samples of fresh tuna from sushi restaurants have an average mercury level of 0.86 ppm. In total, all four studies found fresh tuna with mercury levels higher than the average king mackerel levels from the FDA.

You may have also heard about the FDA "action level" - it's the point where the government can legally remove a product from sale, and for seafood with mercury that limit is 1 ppm.

Three out of the four studies found levels of mercury in fresh tuna samples above the FDA's action level. In the other study that didn't quite reach the 1 ppm mark, they found a mercury level of 0.99 ppm in a fresh tuna sample. ...

You'd think when you go to a supermarket, the seafood counter attendant would at least be able to let you know which fish have higher mercury levels, right?

Unfortunately, in our report, we found this to be hopeful thinking. ... More on that later.

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Mercury on the Mind ...

In the past couple of weeks, there has been an incredible amount of news concerning mercury in seafood.

For folks who aren't fish-heads, some of the news may have been easy to miss. Here's a recap:

• On Jan. 10, 2008, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tested 10 samples of sushi from local restaurants and grocery stores. Two samples were tuna. The tuna sample from the restaurant had a mercury level of 0.94 parts per million (ppm), while the grocery store sample had 0.99 ppm.

Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. issued a press release on Jan. 18, 2008, stating that 80 percent of swordfish they tested had mercury levels of over 1 ppm. MASI also tested tuna and halibut from 19 different grocery stores and found the highest level of mercury in ahi tuna to be 1.2 ppm.

Then yesterday, the New York Times published the results of their study of mercury levels in sushi. The gist:

• The NYT went to 20 restaurants and grocery stores around town and found the highest level of mercury in tuna sushi was 1.4 ppm

Currently, this story is the New York Times' most e-mailed story.

Also yesterday, Oceana released its extensive report on supermarket swordfish, tuna and tilapia, sushi restaurant tuna and mackerel and grocery personnel's knowledge of the FDA's advice about mercury in seafood.

We found some pretty shocking results:

• One-third of sushi tuna samples exceeded the FDA "action level" limit of 1 ppm

• Two-thirds of swordfish samples exceeded the action level

• Eighty-seven percent of seafood counter attendants at grocery stores who were asked about the FDA's mercury warning could not explain it or gave an incorrect explanation.

That's a lot of results. ... So what does this all mean, what happens now? Be sure to stay tuned to Oceana's blog for follow-ups. ...

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