Another hour, another day, another over-hyped food scare from the usual suspects. At a press conference today, Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook proclaimed that “unsafe” mercury levels in fish were endangering pregnant women and their children. The conference was organized by David Fenton’s Environmental Media Services — yes, the same Fenton who sits on the board of Cook’s Environmental Working Group and admittedly used the phony “Alar-on-apples” scare back in 1989 to make money for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Now EWG and their scaremongering partners at NRDC are launching a television ad campaign to over-hype their latest chemical panic. As usual, the campaign is short on facts and long on fear.

The best science suggests that the mercury levels found in fish have no adverse effects on human health. A study published in the Lancet, an international medical journal, decisively demonstrates that there is nothing to fear from trace levels of mercury in fish. The Lancet study intensively examined women and their children in the Seychelles islands — where they eat fish with the same levels of mercury as the fish consumed in the United States. But they eat about 10 times as much fish as the typical American. They consume fish an average of 12 times a week, and, probably as a result, have about six times as much mercury in their bodies as the typical American. Nevertheless, lead author Gary Myers says: “We’ve found no evidence that the low levels of mercury in seafood are harmful.”

Scare campaigns make for good publicity, but they make for even better lawsuits — something the Environmental Working Group knows quite well. Last summer, EWG attempted to manufacture a phony scare over farmed salmon. Soon after, they announced plans to “sue many manufacturers, distributors and retailers of farmed salmon” over supposedly dangerous levels of PCBs in their fish. Of course, they used California’s “bounty hunter” law, Proposition 65, which could earn them a healthy portion of the fines.

In 2001, PBS aired a special called “Trade Secrets” that amounted to a one-sided attack on chemical companies. The Environmental Working Group, along with several other eco-activist organizations, formed a campaign called “Coming Clean” to promote the broadcast. Around the same time, according to tort-reform advocate and Manhattan Institute fellow Walter Olson, EWG began advertising itself directly to trial lawyers. The EWG ad, placed on an attorney-targeted e-mail service, read: “Thought the Cigarette Papers Were Big? 50 years of internal Chemical Industry documents including thousands of industry meeting minutes, memos, and letters. All searchable online. Everything you need to build a case at www.ewg.org.”

Could it be that EWG is really just a front for trial lawyers? Last year EWG received $176,000 from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.