Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Fish Is Good For You. Anxiety Isn’t.

The Chicago Tribune jumped on the mercury food-scare bandwagon this week with a three-part series claiming “tainted” fish with “unsafe” levels of mercury is routinely sold to an unwitting public. But as we’ve detailed on our newest website,, the amount of mercury in fish is inconsequential to human health.

How did the Tribune miss the boat? Mercury advisories from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration both have built-in safety margins of 1,000 percent. So every single piece of fish the newspaper tested — without exception — is safe to eat.

When Tribune reporters Sam Roe and Michael Hawthorne carped about a swordfish steak whose mercury content was “three times the legal limit,” they forgot to account for the ten-fold safety factor that went into calculating that standard. The FDA has written that its “legal limit” (which the agency calls its “Action Level“) was designed to limit consumers’ mercury exposure “to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.” So this sensationalized fish — the most “tainted” sample in all of Chicagoland — actually had less than one-third the amount that the FDA believes might be a cause for concern — and that’s assuming you eat it on a weekly basis.

Green groups (and some newspaper reporters) seem to prefer keeping the public in the dark about all of this. Food scares make for good fundraising letters, and even better newspaper headlines. But they rarely tell the whole story. In this case, the fear-factor approach to tuna and other fish ignores the huge health benefits from the Omega-3 fatty acids in seafood. These essential Omega-3s can help prevent heart attacks, breast and prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and many other conditions.

The continued misunderstanding of meaningless amounts of mercury in fish has left a flood of anxiety in its wake. The result is reminiscent of our nation’s unfounded fears of genetically modified foods and mad cow disease.

There’s a reason our mothers called fish “brain food.” Fish is good for you. And if we radically change our diets every time an overblown food scare lands in the newspaper, it won’t be long until there’s nothing left to eat. Our advice? Throw this one back.

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