The following editorial in the New York Times on December 23, 2008, is old
news to most of you, but may still be of interest.
So Is Fish Safe to Eat or Not?
The federal government has been trying to persuade pregnant and
breast-feeding women to limit their intake of fish because of mercury
contamination. Now some federal scientists are arguing that these women
should actually increase their fish consumption. The behind-the-scenes
disagreement is fierce and raises serious questions for consumers.
The current official advice from the Food and Drug Administration and the
Environmental Protection Agency is that pregnant and nursing women and young
children can safely eat up to 12 ounces - roughly two servings - of most
fish a week, but should limit their intake of albacore tuna to 6 ounces a
week and avoid entirely four species of fish containing high levels of
Now the two agencies are at loggerheads over the two-serving limit. The
F.D.A. has circulated a draft report suggesting that the vast majority of
fetuses and infants would actually benefit if their mothers ate more than
two servings of fish a week because fish contain highly beneficial nutrients
that aid in brain development. The F.D.A.'s scientists argue that those
benefits outweigh any potential harm.
Those contentions are sharply disputed by specialists at the E.P.A. who
charged that the report had "serious scientific flaws," relied on
questionable models and should not be used as a basis for decision-making.
That is a strong indictment that must be answered before the public can
place any confidence in the F.D.A.'s judgment.
Meanwhile, experts caution that consumers should choose from fish that are
low in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and
Although the draft strikes some as another last-minute effort by the Bush
administration to weaken industry oversight, it can provide a useful
opportunity to review whether mercury warnings have gone too far in driving
women away from a potentially beneficial food source.
The report is still undergoing revision at the F.D.A., which pledges to
publish it for comment before deciding how to proceed. Only then will a wide
array of experts be able to tell if the final recommendations make sense or
are dangerously flawed.