Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Hooked On The Hype? Is The Catch Of The Day

Our mothers called fish “brain food.” Scientific literature is bulging with evidence that eating fish can help prevent heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Yesterday, however, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the Food and Drug Administration to slap it with a warning label. (To read our response, click here.) We couldn’t have picked a better day to unveil our newest website,

CSPI’s fear-factor approach to seafood is just the latest indication of an activist world that’s hooked on the largely imaginary health risks from mercury in fish. At, you can put mercury myths in perspective — and learn about the activist campaigns that brought us “fish feel pain” propaganda and boycotts of Atlantic swordfish and Chilean sea bass.

Public skirmishes over mercury in swordfish, tuna, and other popular fish stem from a misunderstanding (which CSPI appears to share) about government fish advisories. The advice offered by the federal government was designed with a built-in ten-fold (that’s 1,000 percent!) margin of safety. So a typical pregnant woman who slightly exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s hyper-cautionary “Reference Dose” for mercury might be protected by a 900-percent cushion instead of 1,000 percent — but she’s still not likely to be in any danger.

Activist groups like CSPI, Oceana, the Mercury Policy Project, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network know that these safety margins are built into government mercury guidelines, but they continue to recklessly promote the idea that serious brain damage awaits anyone who dares eat “too much” fish.

Not convinced? At you can sample the collected wisdom of scientists who have weighed in on the side of common sense:

University of Rochester pediatric neurologist Dr. Gary Myers wrote in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet that his team found “no evidence that the low levels of mercury in seafood are harmful.”
The government of Japan (whose citizens eat about five times as much fish as Americans) issued a health advisory in 2003 that read, in part: “The mercury content level of most seafood is low and is not a [high enough] level to cause harm to the health of individuals, even if they are pregnant.”
University of Rochester Professor of Environmental Medicine Dr. Thomas Clarkson has publicly declared that “eating lots of ocean fish isn’t much of a hazard compared to missing out on the benefits from not eating fish … Overstating the almost negligible risk of mercury could adversely affect millions of people who face the risk of heart disease.”

Our new website also includes the Internet’s first realistic mercury-in-fish calculator. There’s no good reason to fear mercury unless your diet includes a massive amount of fish. Our mercury calculator uses a benchmark that’s derived from science, not fear-mongering green groups. The bottom line? Americans shouldn’t fear mercury levels that are just ten percent of the amount that might be harmful.

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