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Media Falls Hook, Line and Sinker for Fish Industry Line on Mercury

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, October 5, 2007

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued the following statement today in response to media outlets that reported on a fish industry study urging pregnant women to disregard FDA guidance on fish consumption.

“Press reports in the Washington Post, Reuters, ABC, and countless other outlets read like a fish industry press release. The lack of critical reporting and fact checking on this report is staggering,” said Richard Wiles, Executive Director of EWG. “You would think that when a study recommends throwing out official FDA health guidelines for pregnant women that the media might check the sources of the information,” Wiles added.

It turns out that the committee’s travel and website costs to the tune of $74,000 were paid for by the fish industry, and that the vice chairman of the coalition that produced the “study” works for the K Street lobbying and PR operation, Burson Marsteller. The authors claimed, and the press dutifully reported that major public health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the study’s claim that pregnant women need not worry about exposing their babies to mercury by eating fish. Basic fact checking by EWG revealed that the Academy is not even a member of the coalition that produced the report.

The underlying goal of the seafood industry is to perpetuate the myth that there is a debate about the risks of mercury in fish. The media has fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

There is in fact no debate. The FDA advice is clear. Pregnant women, and women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should eat no more than 12 ounces of fish per week, no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna, and no shark, tuna, mackerel, or swordfish at all. In stark contrast, this study actually recommends unlimited consumption of two fish on FDA’s do not eat list, and still most of the media did not bother to check whether the FDA, CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics had any concerns with the findings.

“Under these standards for reporting, cigarettes don’t cause cancer,” said Wiles.

But what about omega 3s and brain development? No confusion there either. Eat fish high in omega 3s and low in mercury, and look for other sources of these beneficial nutrients.

“This report is much more than factually wrong, it’s downright dangerous. If mothers-to-be actually followed this advice there would be an epidemic of mercury-damaged children in this country,” said Wiles. “We need to reduce mercury consumption, not increase it.”

According to mercury experts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 1 in 6 children born in the United States are at risk for developmental disorders due to levels of mercury currently in maternal blood at current low levels of fish consumption. Increasing fish consumption in the manner recommended by the study would make matters much worse. Mercury often concentrates in the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women, exposing their babies to this dangerous chemical.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s research on mercury is available online at http://www.ewg.org/featured/216.

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