Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

TIME Trawls for Tuna Terror

In a story that seems like it was pulled from an apocalyptic CSPI press release, TIME published a list this week of what it claims are the top 10 “most dangerous” foods. TIME’s inclusion of coffee, hot dogs, and leafy greens raised some eyebrows. But its addition of tuna struck us as especially rank. Here’s what TIME says:

A well-publicized 2004 U.S. government advisory warned consumers against eating too much of the fish out of concern that the high mercury levels could damage the nervous system and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. An incriminating 2008 New York Times investigation also caused waves after uncovering that tuna from some ritzy New York City restaurants contained mercury levels so high that the FDA would be justified in removing the fish from the market.

What’s the catch? The New York Times investigation has already been resoundingly rejected in TIME magazine itself! In a 2008 article titled “The Dangers of Not Eating Tuna,” TIME reacted to the NYT report by asking Harvard medical professor Dariush Mozzafarian for his opinion:

TIME: Should we stop eating tuna?
Mozaffarian: No. Overall, the dangers of not eating fish [including tuna] outweigh the small possible dangers from mercury.

They are small and hypothetical, indeed. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes: “Finding a measurable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse health effect.”
And there are no cases in the entire medical literature of anyone in the U.S. getting mercury poisoning from consuming commercially bought fish. In part, that’s because the advisory levels issued by the FDA and EPA have built-in safety margins. For example, a 180 pound man would have to eat more than 10 pounds of canned light tuna every week to assume a hypothetical health risk from the mercury in fish. Japanese today eat eight times the amount of fish Americans do and suffer no ill effects. On the contrary, there’s a wealth of research showing the positive health effects of consuming “brain food.”
Mozaffarian wrapped up his reaction by telling TIME: “I really think we are experimenting with people’s lives when we give recommendations or write stories or reports that make people eat less fish.” Too bad TIME stopped following his advice.

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