Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Mercury Scare, From Portland To The Port Authority

Everyone take a deep breath and repeat after us: "The proven benefits of fish consumption outweigh the hypothetical risks." Say it three times if you live in the Big Apple, where the notoriously food-nannying Department of Health and Mental Hygiene yesterday released its report on the blood-mercury levels of New Yorkers. Needlessly scary media coverage, of course, ensued (click here, here, and here for examples). But before you run screaming from your favorite Manhattan sushi bar, let’s repeat once more: The proven benefits of fish consumption outweigh the hypothetical risks. Got it? Good.

The apocalyptic New York City news broke in Portland, Maine, during the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Forum on Contaminants in Fish. We’re in Portland as well, promoting a much saner view of fish consumption (supported by actual science). In Seafood Science Since Madison: What’s Really Happening in the Great Mercury Debate, we’ve examined the scientific studies that have emerged since last year’s international mercury conference in Wisconsin’s capital.

Our verdict? The news is uniformly good for consumers who eat fish. In one study, Harvard researchers showed that – here we go again — the proven benefits of fish consumption outweigh the hypothetical risks. In another, National Institutes of Health researchers showed that the smartest children come from pregnant women who ate far more fish than the federal government’s advisory permits. In a third, the government’s Institute of Medicine warned against posting fish warning signs in grocery stores, since targeting all Americans — instead of just a few small groups — doesn’t work.

And that notorious mercury study of whale-eaters in Denmark’s Faroe Islands? The one our EPA bases its fish warnings on? The research team now concedes that their work doesn’t apply to ordinary people who eat ordinary fish.

We’ve put it all together in our Seafood Science report, along with some common-sense recommendations for the government. Not that we expect immediate results. If the Portland EPA conference is any indication, our government may be years away from recognizing that — all together now — the proven benefits of fish consumption outweigh the hypothetical risks.

Sadly, what most Americans are hearing today is instead the needless scare stories of New York bureaucrats committing public-health malpractice. We’re explaining to the media that the mercury levels measured in New Yorkers, while higher than the national average, are nowhere near a level that would justify health concerns. If anything, the findings are a helpful indication that New Yorkers are eating more fish than their fellow citizens in, say, Nebraska. And that’s good news. Because — once more, with feeling — the proven benefits of fish … well, you know the rest.

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