Despite scare campaigns from more than two dozen U.S. activist groups who make frightening people into ditching fish a full-time job, good news about seafood is out there — and you don’t have to be an Ivy League scholar to recognize it. Yesterday a series of five (yes, five) Harvard studies appearing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine put the healthfulness of fish in its proper context. Eating even small amounts of fish each week, researchers concluded, can result in a 17 percent lower risk of heart disease, a 12 percent lower risk of stroke, and (when eaten by pregnant women) a modest increase in children’s IQ. The Harvard team also concluded that government warnings about mercury in fish can do more harm than good.
Last Friday the University of Maryland’s Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy released a public opinion survey showing just how confused Americans are about the government’s fish advisories. Forty-five percent of those surveyed thought mercury warnings applied to the elderly. Thirty-five percent said they targeted pre-teens and teenagers. Twenty-nine percent believed they were aimed at men. Thirty percent thought our government’s eat-less-fish advice was meant for all Americans. They’re wrong on all counts.
Like the government health advisories, some studies counsel caution for pregnant women. But even they don’t have anything to fear from mercury in fish — beyond fear itself. Fish advisories from the FDA and EPA have a built-in ten-fold margin of safety. So there’s a 1,000-percent difference between the amount of mercury that might be harmful to a pregnant woman and the amount government agencies (and a growing list of opportunistic activists) want us to consider “unsafe.” No American women are in the actual range of potential danger.
Speaking about mercury in fish, Dr. Joshua Cohen (who led the Harvard research team) told a WebMD reporter: “We are talking about subtle effects, not detectable at the level of the individual. That is because the amount of mercury people are exposed to in the U.S. is not very great.”
Tell that to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, which recently strong-armed Safeway into posting fish-warning labels in stores nationwide. And to Oceana, which just gave California Attorney General Bill Lockyer an environmental award for suing companies to force warning labels on tuna cans.
If you’ve been overfed a diet of fish fear, check back with us often. We’ll be diving into the murky waters of seafood scares, exposing the growing school of activists who make careers out of turning healthy foods into front-page panics.