Filed Under: Food Scares

Mercury-In-Fish Activists Flailing In Wake of Scientific Bombshell

It’s been a little over a week since the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a groundbreaking study in which researchers found that the government’s hyper-precautionary mercury-in-fish warnings are groundless and possibly counterproductive — even where pregnant women are concerned. Unsurprisingly, the hordes of activists who’ve made careers out of scaring people away from "brain food" have offered little in the way of a reply.The notable exception has been Oceana, which defiantly announced last Wednesday the winners of its "Masters of Making Mercury in the Environment" (MOMMIE) awards, meant to "honor" businesses for their "outstanding achievement in the field of poisoning our tuna fish sandwiches." And, in a letter responding to a piece on the Lancet study in The Concord Monitor (NH), one of Oceana’s pollution scientists wrote:

Cod, haddock and prawns account for nearly half of Great Britain’s seafood consumption, and all three are low in mercury. But Americans eat tuna more than any other fish, and albacore tuna has much higher mercury levels than the fish Brits prefer. Also, swordfish is twice as popular in the US as in the UK and typically has more than 14 times as much mercury as cod and 22 times as much as haddock.For Americans, following the FDA’s advice is the safest thing to do.

Philippe Grandjean — the Danish toxicologist whose questionable work in Northern Europe provides the basis for the federal seafood consumption guidelines — has echoed that talking point. But as Slate‘s Arthur Allen notes, this particular criticism doesn’t hold water:

Because British women tend to eat cod, flounder, and other relatively low-mercury fish, Grandjean theorized, they may enjoy all the benefits and few of the risks of fish eating. But the same may not apply to American fish-eating moms, who are more likely to get their fish from a can of high-on-the-food-chain (and thus, high-mercury) tuna.This explanation seems conjectural. Previous studies have shown that pregnant women in Britain have roughly two and a half times more organic mercury in their bloodstreams than pregnant American women do presumably because of higher fish consumption. The new British study didn’t measure mercury blood levels in the moms or their babies. But in all likelihood, the more fish these British moms ate, the more mercury they got, whether the fish they were eating were particularly high in mercury or not. This tends to erode the Grandjean thesis.

The tide has definitely turned since a year ago, when Oceana and other groups were tarnishing the nutritional profile of fish with impunity. Major reports from the Harvard School of Public Health and the federal government’s Institute of Medicine eroded Oceana’s fear-your-fish mantra. And now the Lancet study has made activist talk of mercury-endangered pregnancies sound patently absurd.We’re recommending that businesses receiving Oceana’s MOMMIE award statue (click here to see a photo) accept it with pride. Whatever they did to earn the award can’t possibly be as sinister as scaring women away from the one food proven to improve their children’s IQ.

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