Government Gives Flawed Advice for Eating Fish, Ignores New Science

Washington, D.C. – A federal advisory encouraging pregnant women, nursing mothers and children to eat more seafood fails to protect them from methylmercury exposure and guide them to better fish choices, according to a new analysis released today by Environmental Working Group and the Mercury Policy Project.

“It seems the government doesn’t want to tell us the whole truth about the risks and benefits of fish and shellfish,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. “With this analysis, we hope to expose the shortcomings in the government’s advice and provide consumers with the right information to help them make smarter and safer decisions.”

Click here for the full analysis: Five Things FDA and EPA Didn’t Tell You About Seafood Safety

The advisory, issued earlier this month by the federal Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, ignores more than a dozen scientific studies since 2004 that suggest that methylmercury is more damaging than previously documented. Studies show that a pregnant woman’s exposure to methylmercury in amounts similar to or only slightly above the typical levels in American consumers can harm her fetus.

The FDA-EPA advisory recommended that pregnant women and children eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces per week of various lower-mercury fish in order to gain important developmental and health benefits. The agencies’ previous guidelines, issued in 2004, did not set a floor for seafood consumption.

The EWG-MPP analysis points out that the government’s recommendation to “eat more fish” is oversimplified and unlikely to achieve the intended benefits because methylmercury and omega-3 concentrations vary widely between species.

The analysis concludes that the federal guidelines do not:

  • Give clear guidance on which fish contain too much mercury when eaten frequently;
  • Steer consumers toward the safest and healthiest seafood choices;  
  • Correct the agencies’ outdated and erroneous advice and information on eating canned tuna;
  • Ensure that pregnant women and children who already eat a lot of fish do so safely.

“There’s something really 'fishy' about the agencies’ fixation on health benefit studies while appearing to ignore the latest science on methylmercury exposure since the 2004 advisory was released,” said Michael Bender, executive director of the Mercury Policy Project.  “In particular, Americans should be asking FDA and EPA why they are offering the same outdated advice on canned tuna consumption when more than one-third of exposure to methylmercury comes from this source.”

Last January, an EWG report that analyzed fish contaminant and nutrient data concluded that 10 of 35 seafood varieties sold commercially in the U.S. would face an unacceptable mercury risk to a pregnant woman of average weight if she ate eight ounces weekly, as the FDA now recommends.

The FDA plans to issue final guidelines this fall. EWG and MPP recommend that it overhaul these seafood consumption recommendations to help Americans keep their exposure to toxic methylmercury within safe limits.

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