Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Gutting Fishy Scaremongering

Activists spread a lot of scares and myths about what we eat—that hot dogs cause cancer, organic food is healthier, and so on. One of the most pernicious myths harms mothers-to-be and their children by warning against fish consumption because of minuscule levels of (mostly naturally-occurring) mercury found in ocean seafood. Not everyone has taken the bait from activist groups like Consumers Union and the Environmental Working Group. Yesterday, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran filleted the apocalyptic fish scaremongering, and we were all too glad to help.

One Harvard study found that pregnant women cut their fish consumption by a sixth after one big scare. Poor families buy much less canned tuna, a cheap, safe food, since the 1990s, found Nielsen’s Homescan survey.
Said [CCF’s] David Martosko … the data show more than 4 million households at or below the poverty line don’t eat fish at all. That’s "more than a quarter million kids who got no omega-3s in utero because their mothers were too scared to eat fish," he said. "That’s a public health catastrophe."

The reason fish is known as “brain food” is because consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish boosts the development of children’s noggins. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology last year found that women who ate the most fish during the second trimester of their pregnancies (more fish, in fact, than the U.S. federal government’s guidelines permit) delivered children with the highest scores on two cognitive tests when they reached three years of age.
The feds have set a “Reference Dose” for mercury intake which is just one-tenth of the lowest levels associated with adverse effects. You can consume more fish than the government recommends, and still be far below any unsafe levels. For example, a 150-pound woman would need to eat 8.8 pounds of canned light tuna every week for her entire lifetime in order to introduce any new health risks from mercury.
As McIlheran summed up:

You have to ask, though, whether useful scares are worth 10 points off a generation’s IQ … Apocalyptic fish stories, another kind of pollution, not only don’t jibe with science, they carry a real cost for people who believe them.

In other words, the chum tossed around by activist groups predicting a tuna catastrophe simply stinks. In fact, as we’ve documented, The Great Tuna Scare is actually hurting poor children by keeping omega-3s out of their moms’ pregnancy diets. (For a real-life assessment of your own situation, try out our new ”How Much Fish” seafood calculator.)

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