Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

‘Toxic Sushi’ Myth Rolls Through Los Angeles And Beyond

This morning’s edition of ABC’s Good Morning America featured an alarming (or should we say alarmist?) tale about the levels of mercury in sushi-grade tuna. After testing a grand total of twelve pieces of fish from Los Angeles restaurants, activists at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) concluded that eating tuna constitutes “playing Russian roulette with your health.” The group also claimed in a report distributed to the media that “women and children should not eat tuna served as sushi or sashimi.” Major media including the Los Angeles Times, the Reuters News Service, and United Press International uncritically fanned the flames of a “tuna roulette” food scare without considering that it might be, well, all wet.

In its introduction to this morning’s story, Good Morning America fell for STRP’s claim that three tuna samples it tested came back from the lab “at about the FDA’s maximum threshold.” That “threshold,” which the FDA calls an “Action Level,” has a 1,000-percent margin of safety built into it.

The FDA has written that its mercury Action Level “was established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.” So, as we told reporters yesterday, STRP’s most “toxic” piece of fish contained merely ten percent of the mercury level that might be a cause for concern.

Thankfully, the Good Morning America segment included some sanity along with its breakfast serving of fish fear. A Consumer Freedom gold star goes to Harvard University’s Dr. Joshua Cohen, whose research team concluded in October that government warnings about mercury in fish may do more harm than good.

Cohen reminded viewers that the hypothetical health risks from mercury in fish would take a lifetime to accumulate anyway:

To even suggest that going to a restaurant is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette, that’s just not true. Saying that a single fish can be a serious problem is like saying that eating three slices of pie at Thanksgiving will, by itself, lead to obesity … If people ate more fish, then the number of heart attacks and strokes would decrease.

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