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Subject: Re: Editorial on Mercury
From: "Harris, Craig" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scientific forum on fish and fisheries <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 23 Dec 2008 06:12:25 -0500

text/plain (84 lines)

i agree that, in the short run, as a matter of public policy the
government needs to provide authoritative, credible and valid advice to
women of child bearing age about the consumption of fish, in an effort
to increase the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease the
consumption of mercury . . . 

however, all the fuss and focus on the best warning seems to me to
obscure the more important, medium-term point . . . as nations and as
international organizations, we need to figure out how to reduce the
mercury content of otherwise healthful fish and seafood . . . that
requires developing a reasonably accurate understanding of the
anthropogenic sources of mercury in fish and seafood, and developing and
implementing policy to reduce, as quickly as possible, as much as
possible, those sources . . . 

i hope that the incoming u.s. administration will put at least as much
effort into reducing the mercury content of fish and seafood as it does
into resolving the two meal limit issue . . . 



craig k harris
department of sociology
michigan agricultural experiment station
national food safety and toxicology center
institute for food and agricultural standards
food safety policy center
michigan state university 

-----Original Message-----
From: Scientific forum on fish and fisheries
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of William Silvert
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 5:51 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Editorial on Mercury

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 mercury.

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
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 catfish.
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. 

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