Guiyang, China — A group of 561 scientists gathered this week in the Chinese city of Guiyang to explore issues surrounding mercury pollution, and a new survey shows that a large majority of them no longer believe traces of mercury in seafood represent a serious health risk to consumers. The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) surveyed participants of the Ninth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, and the results were made available today.
Scientists were asked whether or not they agreed with eleven declarations about mercury and seafood. Large majorities agreed with all eleven.
Major findings in this survey include broad scientific agreement that:
- Evidence suggests that normal consumption of ocean fish does not introduce novel health risks to adults, children, or developing fetuses.
- Evidence suggests that the well documented health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients outweigh health risks from methylmercury exposure.
- Most of the methylmercury in marine (ocean) fish originates with natural processes, and is not the direct result of human activity.
- Warnings about mercury in fish at the point-of-purchase put poor consumers at a disadvantage, since they are less able to appreciate carefully nuanced public health messages about which fish to eat, and whether or not an advisory applies to them.
“This is groundbreaking news,” said CCF Director of Research David Martosko, who attended the conference and supervised the survey. “The good news about eating fish is finally drowning out the bad news. And we’re hearing it from the real experts.”
The CCF survey signals a clear break from the 2006 “Madison Declaration,” issued after the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant in Madison, Wisconsin. At that conference, a majority of scientists still believed that traces of mercury in fish produced “toxic effects” in people and unborn children.
Martosko added: “Our survey comes at a time when the United States FDA is finally looking at the tremendous health benefits of eating seafood—not just the hypothetical risks. It appears that most scientists who study mercury agree with this approach.”
A large majority of scientists surveyed also agreed that:
- It would be a good public health outcome if governments urged consumers to eat more fish in general, rather than focusing on the promotion of some fish species over others.
- There is growing evidence that selenium in the diet may protect fish consumers from methylmercury’s neurological and developmental effects.
- In recent decades, there has not been an increase in methylmercury levels measured in ocean fish tissue, although levels of man-made mercury in the environment have increased.
- Consumers who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage may lack adequate access to health care, creating an information gap about the health benefits of eating fish on a regular basis.
- Mercury campaigns and government warnings have the unintended consequence of reducing seafood consumption among socioeconomically disadvantaged people. This is a bad public-health outcome.
- Point-of-sale signs about mercury in fish targeting pregnant women also discourage fish-eating among consumers for whom consumption advice is unnecessary.
- Generally encouraging consumers to eat a variety of fish is the best way to mitigate concern about mercury and still ensure that they get the health benefits of fish consumption.
The CCF survey was distributed to all conference participants, and 56 percent responded.