It’s unfortunate that NRN chose to rely on information provided by the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) for its March 27 front-page article on mercury in fish [“Operators feel more pressure to warn guests about tuna risk”]. TIRN is a big-budget environmental group needlessly scaring Americans with wild tales of fish-related mercury poisoning.
The FDA writes that its “Action Level” for mercury (1 part per million) limits people’s exposure “to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.” That’s a 1,000 percent safety margin. So unless a piece of fish exceeds this Action Level ten times over, eating it will not expose a restaurant customer to any known health risks.
Despite TIRN’s claims, its survey of Los Angeles sushi didn’t identify a single piece of fish that’s harmful to eat. And in 14 years of testing, the FDA hasn’t found a single dangerous piece of fish either.
It’s customary for government regulators to add safety factors to health advisories, and it’s sensible to do so when we’re talking about lead in paint or cyanide in our drinking water. But fish is a healthy food. In 2005 a team of Harvard researchers found that overreacting to government health advisories (and eating less fish) is a greater health risk than anything we have to fear from mercury.
Given all we know about the positive health impact of Omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a real public-health crisis when Americans (especially women) are scared away from eating fish by activists who lack a good understanding of science. Fish is still the good-for-you “brain food” that our mothers encouraged us to eat. But needless anxiety about mercury may indeed be hazardous your health.