FDA Report: Fish Is Good for Brains Despite Mercury Risk

By Nina Bai | December 16, 2008 5:57 pm

swordfishThe health benefits of eating more fish outweigh the risks of mercury poisoning, according to a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal that would revise current federal seafood advisories. The proposal is drawing fire from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental groups that accuse the FDA of pandering to the seafood industry. Richard Wiles, director of an environmental advocacy group, said, “This is an astonishing, irresponsible document…It’s a commentary on how low FDA has sunk as an agency. It was once a fierce protector of America’s health, and now it’s nothing more than a patsy for polluters” [Washington Post].

Currently, the government advises young children, pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age to restrict overall fish consumption to 12 ounces per week and to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which are known to have particularly high mercury levels. Mercury in the environment accumulates in fish and studies have linked the element to developmental problems in fetuses and young children as well as cardiovascular disease in adults. However, the new FDA report says recent studies suggest “a beneficial impact on fetal neurodevelopment from the mother’s consumption of fish, even though they contain methylmercury…The net effect is not necessarily adverse, and could in fact be beneficial” [AP]. The report argued that nutrients in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals could boost a child’s IQ by three points [Washington Post]. The new analysis places ideal fish consumption—for optimal IQ-boosting—somewhere above 12 ounces per week.

The EPA has fired off a memo to the White House calling the 270-page FDA study “scientifically flawed and inadequate” and an “oversimplification” lacking analytical rigor [AP]. Environmental groups and Democrats in Congress have labeled the FDA proposal as a sneak attempt to undercut important public health advice in the waning hours of a Bush administration that has treated science as a stepchild [AP]. President-elect Barack Obama supports tougher mercury regulations. Not surprisingly, the FDA proposal has strong backing from the seafood industry which has complained that the current advisory is scaring women away from eating fish. In sharp contrast to the criticisms, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute praised the FDA proposal: “This is a science-based approach,” he said. “And you start to see a picture emerge that shows the clear benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks of a trace amount of mercury in fish” [Washington Post].

The FDA and EPA have battled for years over mercury regulations. Both agencies play separate but overlapping roles in informing the public about mercury risks. The EPA investigates and regulates mercury and other contaminants in recreationally caught fish, while the FDA regulates mercury in seafood sold in markets and restaurants. States rely on the federal agencies in issuing their own advisories [AP]. A spokesman for the FDA said the current proposal is only in draft form and no official changes will be made until public comments are carefully considered.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Our Preferred Poison, mercury is everywhere
DISCOVER: Do You Really Want to Eat That Tuna?

Image: flickr / dweekly

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Health & Medicine
  • http://clubneko.net nick

    You can get those nutrients from vegetable and terrestrial sources.

    And even if that weren’t the case, overfishing is about to deplete our oceans, and encouraging people to eat more fish “bekuz it’ll mek u smrt and the murcury willn’t hurt u mor dan it mux u samrt” will just deplete our oceans faster, and then we’d be totally boned because all of a sudden all our IQ enhancing fish will be gone, and then the human race will become dumb.

  • James Moening

    Mercuric intake (fish or not) isn’t the only concern for mothers concerned about child health. I’m certain the water and air alone of many communities bears toxins (mercury included) which contribute to birth defects and developmental deficiencies. Since corruption spans party lines, “truth” may never surface — but I would like to see a map with industry dollars and historical illness data overlayed.

  • Claire

    The explosion in the use of unregulated, untested, nanotechnology in everything from cleaning agents, clothing, cosmetics, medicines, on and on, poses the greatest risk for all of humanity today (not just children).
    In addition to all of the recent articles regarding the growing alarm at this lack of oversight coupled with the proliferation of its use, one scientist has determined that nanotechnology is the cause of an emerging, global affliction called Morgellons Disease.
    This seminal work has not been espoused by other scientists (GMO foods have been postulated more than any other hypotheses due to the presence of agrobacteria in these victims). However, the nanotech theory is being quoted more in recent months than other theories due to the fact that other theories, including agrobacteria as the causative agent, fail to explain the vast array of symptoms.
    With so many dynamics underway that threaten the viability of a healthy future (including the impending global depression), the very least we can do is to declare an immediate moratorium on the use of this technology in every application.
    Has the world become suicidal?

  • Bystander

    Claire, can you supply a link to this scientists report? So far as I’ve read, only a small percentage of the people ‘afflicted’ with Morgellons actually had agrobacteria and all of those who did were successfully treated with Lyme Disease meds. Many others, unafflicted with the agrobacteria, were ‘cured’ with antipsychotic drugs that contained ‘anti itch’ agents. Some are even ‘cured’ just by not being allowed to pick at their lesions.

    I can kind of see where you want to jump all over nano technology, and I agree that more research should have been done before releasing any kind of nano tech to the general public, but you are still screaming ‘drastic actions now’ over something that hasn’t been fully explained.

    Btw, to hell with methylmercury in fish.. I loves my sushi. ^_^

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