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Oceana: Harvard Mercury Study Being Misinterpreted

Press Release Date

Friday, October 28, 2005
Location: Washington

Jackie Savitz, Seafood Contamination Campaign Director for the international ocean conservation group Oceana, which has been campaigning to get supermarkets nationwide to post warning signs wherever fish under a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mercury advisory are sold, today released the following statement in response to widespread misconceptions about a recent study on mercury in seafood released by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis:

 “We are disappointed that coverage of the recent Harvard study on the FDA’s mercury advisories fails to reflect the study’s actual findings. The Harvard study clearly shows that women should avoid eating fish high in mercury, yet, ironically, the study has been widely interpreted as suggesting that FDA warnings have led to an unhealthful decline in seafood consumption. The real problem is that the FDA has done too little to educate the public about the content of its advisories, which has resulted in people not knowing which fish to avoid or eat in moderation. If anything, the Harvard study should be construed as a clarion call for clear and accurate warning signs in supermarkets based on the FDA advisories. Perhaps if the study had not been promoted and funded by the U.S. Tuna Foundation and National Fisheries Institute , its conclusions would have been more obvious.

 “The FDA warns women to avoid swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark, and to limit consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks. The simple fact is this: women can get healthy omega fatty acids from fish while still avoiding the few fish that are under the FDA advisory.

 “This is stated clearly in the Harvard study: ‘Substitution of fish with high [methylmercury] concentrations with fish containing less [methylmercury] among women of childbearing age yields substantial developmental benefits and few negative impacts.’

 “Simple signs in stores communicating the government advisory would allow people to choose omega-rich fish that are also low in mercury.  People have a right to know about mercury in fish, but it’s clear that the message is not getting out, as the study itself states. Signs like those already being posted by law in California are the key to getting omegas without mercury and achieving the benefits touted in the study. Signs are also being posted by at least one national grocery chain, Wild Oats Markets, and more are likely to follow. For those who truly care about women’s health, signs in stores are the obvious answer.”