written by Nancy Hepp
Research and Communications Specialist
Four recent items left me scratching my head regarding fish consumption:
- Is that fish safe to eat? Sorting through new guidelines: After possibly scaring away too many people, especially pregnant and breastfeeding women and their growing kids, from eating fish due to fears of mercury, the Food and Drug Administration says that everyone should eat more fish.
- The FDA draft guidelines: Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know
- FDA’s proposed fish advisory could increase mercury poisoning: groups warn FDA experts at meeting this week: In comments to a federal risk communication meeting, the groups point out that recommendation to simply “eat more fish” is oversimplified and unlikely to achieve the intended benefits because methylmercury and omega-3 concentrations vary widely between fish species.
- Folks who eat fish tested, show high mercury levels: Health authorities in Michigan are awaiting test results for elevated levels of chemicals and metals in people who eat lots of Great Lakes fish. Blood and urine from volunteers in Michigan and two other states were tested for PCBs, pesticides, mercury, lead and cadmium.
If I were pregnant or the parent of a small child, I’d be dismayed at the lack of clarity on this issue. One source—a federal government agency—says that I’m harming my child if I don’t put more fish on the plate, while other sources say just the opposite. Last summer, CHE hosted an hour-long call on fish and health, including a segment on the science behind fish consumption guidelines. The call recording and slides are available at Catch of the Day: Healthy Fish, Healthy Humans.
The benefits of eating fish are inherent in the fish themselves: lean protein, the omega-3 fatty acids and docosahexaenoic (DHA). The risks, however, are partially or mostly caused by human action: mercury, PCBs, lead, cadmium and fire retardants in our waters from the manufacturing, use and disposal of goods and the burning of fossil fuels for power.
CHE encourages everyone to follow the continuing conversation on fish and health. More importantly, however, we also need to focus on the bigger issue of cleaning up our waterways so that one day we won’t need to decide between the health benefits of consuming fish and the risks.