Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Experts to FDA: Time to Update Fish Recommendations

We’ve pointed out many times that Americans’ hysteria over trace levels of mercury in fish is just that—hysteria. The health risks from mercury (some of which is all-natural) are vanishingly small compared to the well-documented health benefits of eating fish. And now here’s some good news: Cornell University professor Tom Brenna and London Metropolitan University professor Michael Crawford have written an open letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, calling on her agency to update its 2004 fish consumption advisory to reflect health research that has since become available.

The FDA’s 2004 advisory states that women who are or may become pregnant should limit their consumption of fish due to concerns about the effects of mercury on fetuses and young children. The open letter informs Hamburg that it’s not realistic to continue to use this advisory:

The core problem is that the benefits of fish could not be appropriately considered in 2004.  Current science has advanced to the point where it is no longer consistent with the recommendation to limit consumption of all fish to a maximum of 12 ounces per week for pregnant and lactating women and women who may become pregnant.   There is persuasive new evidence that consumption of more than 12 ounces per week of most marketplace species will actually improve fetal neurodevelopment.  This improvement occurs in spite of methyl-mercury in most, if not all fish.       

The adverse consequences of inadequate fish consumption could be significant.  According to the research published since 2004, fish consumption during pregnancy can raise neurodevelopmental performance including IQ from fractions of an IQ point to as much as five points depending on the amounts and types of fish consumed.  It appears that maximizing this beneficial effect can often involve consumption beyond 12 ounces per week, again depending upon the species.   

Professors Brenna and Crawford note that the FDA already developed a Draft Risk & Benefit Assessment last year to help weigh the pros and cons of eating certain kinds of fish. And they urge Hamburg to “complete work on this assessment on a priority basis.” Hear, hear.

For those looking for a user-friendly tool in the mean-time, we recommend our website. It provides realistic estimates of, well—how much of certain fish species Americans can safely eat, as well as a breakdown of the nutrients they provide.

Pass it around, and be sure to stay tuned—we’ll be expanding in the coming weeks. As for the open letter to the FDA, it’s open to additional signatories—and it appears the list is already growing.

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