Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Mercury Decision: Baseless Fish Scares ‘Could Have Adverse Health Consequences’

This week we’ve explored a recent California court decision that may pave the way for common sense among the fish-eating public. Before refusing to allow California’s Attorney General to require warning signs everywhere canned tuna is sold, Judge Robert Dondero heard thorough testimony from experts on both sides. If the warning-happy plaintiffs were most typically represented by Dr. Deborah Rice (whose testimony the judge dismissed as “misleading”, “unreliable”, and “biased”), the victorious defense was best championed by Dr. Louis Sullivan. A former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Sullivan testified that exaggerating the risks from naturally occurring traces of mercury in fish would only serve to “scare people away from a healthy food.”

Judge Dondero’s decision also included the following choice observations from Dr. Sullivan:

Page 4: “According to Dr. Sullivan,” the judge writes, “it is generally accepted in the medical community that fish consumption benefits health and that Americans would be better off eating more fish. For example, fish, including tuna, is a low-calorie source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important in enhancing the growth and development of infants prior to birth, and aid in the development the brain, nerves and eyes.”

Pages 4-5: The judge notes Dr. Sullivan’s explanation “that pregnant women who consume less fish have a
higher incidence of low birth weight preterm babies
and babies born with complications. Interestingly, preterm birth is considered a developmental harm, which is the harm Proposition 65 warnings are supposed to communicate. Moreover, consumption of canned tuna, which is a low-cost, low-calorie food, is vital to American health … especially among the poor.”

Page 8: “Dr. Sullivan,” the judge explains, “testified that there is a negative relationship between warnings about fish and fish consumption. This opinion is supported by a study that found there was a decrease in fish consumption among pregnant women caused by negative press reports of chemicals in fish. This decrease in fish consumption could have adverse health consequences.”

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