On Friday the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published a study on mercury in the Pacific Ocean, and seafood alarmists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seem thrilled with the findings. The problem is, neither the USGS nor the EPA (who trumpeted the study’s findings in its own press release) has the authority to make claims about food – especially when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already cautioned that fears about mercury in seafood are overblown.
In the interest of making sure consumers are aware of both sides of this fish story, we added our voice to the debate over the FDA draft report released this winter about commercial fish consumption. The FDA is finally acknowledging the scientific consensus that omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients in fish are essential to human health.
USGS and EPA appear far behind the times on the science of seafood and health. The USGS study tested the level of mercury in the Pacific Ocean and concluded that “increased mercury emissions from human sources across the globe, and in particular from Asia, make their way into the North Pacific Ocean and as a result contaminate tuna and other seafood.”
That’s a pretty stark conclusion, considering that the study’s reserachers failed to test a single fish. And the EPA doesn’t seem to mind:
"This study gives us a better understanding of how dangerous levels of mercury move into our air, our water, and the food we eat, and shines new light on a major health threat to Americans and people all across the world,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
How can a study that didn’t test any fish draw conclusions about "the food we eat"? Last time we checked, people don’t drink ocean water any more often than they eat the soil that crops grow in.
Contrast this with the FDA, which has tested plenty of fish for mercury content. It’s a power struggle — one that appears to stem more from interdepartmental politics than from a genuine concern about consumer health.
The evidence is crystal clear that the benefits of a seafood-rich diet overwhelmingly outweigh any hypothetical risks from naturally occurring methylmercury in ocean fish. Still, activist groups like Oceana, the Mercury Policy Project, and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project are supporting the EPA model of scaremongering. They point to the minuscule risk of mercury poisoning as the reason we should all stop eating fish (and start supporting coral reef protection, alternative energy, and sea turtle habitats, of course).
Environmental activists should stop using a health food as a weapon in their attempts to advance projects that have nothing to do with the healthfulness of eating seafood — both inside and outside of government.