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Subject: Editorial on Mercury
From: William Silvert <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scientific forum on fish and fisheries <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 23 Dec 2008 10:51:01 -0000
Content-Type:text/plain
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text/plain (43 lines)


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 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 
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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