Press Release

Latest Fish-Mercury Scare Campaign Is All Wet, Says Consumer Group

Washington, DC — A report from environmental groups about mercury levels in tuna and swordfish misled the public, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom said today. The report, issued by a coalition including Oceana and the Mercury Policy Project, claimed that store-bought fish contain levels of mercury that government officials say “may be hazardous to human health, particularly children.” This is false.

The report’s demands for warning labels on supermarket fish are based on the fact that some samples contained mercury in levels exceeding the EPA’s “reference dose.” But this dose has a safety factor of 1,000 percent built in.

At a July 2003 EPA/FDA meeting, Michael Bolger (Chief of the FDA’s Contamination Branch) said that “92 percent of women of child-bearing age already consume below [the mercury] reference dose, while the top 8 percent still have a safety margin of about eight-fold.” The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the CDC, showed that absolutely no American men, women, or children had mercury levels near the established “benchmark“ danger level.

In 1994, shortly after the FDA established its mercury “action level” of 1 part-per-million in fish, the agency wrote that this level “was established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects … [and] is considerably lower than levels of methyl mercury in fish that have caused illness.” The World Health Organization has since concluded: “The general population does not face a significant health risk from methyl mercury.”

“Even if the mercury in a fish was double the FDA’s action level, it would mean that Americans’ health is still protected by a 500-percent buffer,” said Center for Consumer Freedom Director of Research David Martosko. “When green groups raise red flags over what amounts to a giant red-herring, we have to wonder if they’re at all familiar with the science. These campaigns have more to do with creating fear and raising money than protecting the public’s health.”

Presently, the only U.S. state that requires mercury warning labels on fish is California. On August 12 the FDA warned California’s Attorney General that such mandatory warnings may violate federal law because they are made “without any scientific basis as to the possible harm caused by the particular foods in questions, or as to the amounts of such foods that would be required to cause this harm.”

Martosko added: “Putting warning labels on fish with such low mercury levels is like writing a speeding ticket for someone who drives 6 miles-per-hour in a 55-mph zone. No fish in this study came anywhere near being dangerous, and claiming otherwise is reckless.”

Founded in 1996, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. For more information, visit


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