Usually we disregard stories that have the term “unscientific experiment” in their introduction. But we came across one today that feeds a myth so harmful to public health that it must be corrected. (Again.) We’re referring, of course, to the all-too-common misunderstanding of seafood scares and a general blindness to the unmatched benefits that seafood provides.
Fish hype has been the focus of much media attention lately, especially with Jeremy Piven’s ongoing sushi saga. In an attempt to get to the bottom of mercury-in-tuna scares, San Francisco’s CBS 5 conducted an experiment in which a reporter, Sue Kwon, ate 20 cans of albacore tuna over 20 days. In that time period, Kwon’s blood mercury level reached 17.2 micrograms per liter.
"Anytime in a woman’s body she reaches a 14 or 15 she stands a chance of knocking IQ points off her child’s brain," Dr. Jane Hightower says in the article, which notes that the legal mercury limit set by the Food and Drug Administration is 1 part per million.
As is typical in the media, the report fails to note that this legal limit is not any kind of safety limit. In fact, it has a ten-fold safety cushion built in. So Kwon’s big experiment got her to less than 30 percent of a mercury level that could be cause for actual health concerns. No wonder the CBS report concludes by noting that Sue Kwon did not feel side effects.
If she had experienced any side effects, this story would not be on a local television affiliates website, but on the front page of every major newspaper. Kwon, after all, would have made history by becoming the first documented case of mercury poisoning from eating a fish sold in restaurants and supermarkets.
But of course, Kwon is fine. And given that — as the report itself notes — canned tuna is packed with lean protein and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, she’s probably healthier than before her unscientific experiment began.