This morning the Institute of Medicine (IOM, a division of the National Academy of Sciences) released the results of an 18-month-long examination of the health implications of eating seafood. And not surprisingly, the overall verdict supports what we’ve been saying: The benefits of eating fish outweigh any risks. Putting the lie to activist groups, the IOM panel wrote that average American seafood consumption is unfortunately “below levels suggested by many groups, including levels suggested by the American Heart Association.” And, summarizing the published proof supporting the omnipresent fish-related health scares, the IOM added that “considerable uncertainties are associated with estimates of the health risks” from mercury.
This, of course, is a diplomatic way of saying that health risks from eating ordinary amounts of fish are generally theoretical in nature, while the health benefits are well-understood and scientifically established. Environmental activists have done their best to turn these uncertainties into public confusion. And this confusion, one IOM panelist (a Tufts University professor) told the Associated Press this morning, “may have scared people out of eating something that is beneficial for them and maybe for their offspring.”
Later today a landmark study in JAMA (the journal of the American Medical Association) will pile on the good news. The study, written by two Harvard researchers (click here and here) and funded by the National Institutes of Health, concludes that if Americans avoid fish consumption because of “confusion” about hypothetical health risks, it “could result in thousands of excess coronary heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children.” As we’re telling the news media today, Americans who are wary of eating fish should stop listening to scary rhetoric from activist groups and tune in to what scientists are saying: Fish is a health food.
Activist groups are trying various strategies to counteract this good news. Oceana and the Mercury Policy Project are busy whining that no doom-and-gloom activists were included on the IOM panel. And the National Environmental Trust is holding a phone-in press event to complain that increasing our seafood consumption will “hurt wild fish populations [that] suffer from overfishing.” But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a different — and better informed — take on today’s news: “With fish populations rebuilding to sustainable levels and under tight harvest controls in U.S. waters, Americans should enjoy seafood as part of a healthy diet.”