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January 27, 2010
ZoCo Productions, LLC
VIA Email c/o Jackie Barth
Dear Ms. Rich,
I am writing you about serious scientific inaccuracies in Dr. Oz's January 26, 2010 segment on fish consumption and mercury.
At the outset of the segment, Dr. Oz contradicts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) advice about eating seafood by saying mercury in seafood is a concern for not only pregnant women and children, but "all of us." The FDA advice clearly states, "for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern." The CDC study he cites actually says "finding a measureable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse effect."
Dr. Oz then attempts to explain how mercury ends up in the seafood Americans eat, but instead describes how pollution contributes to mercury found in lakes and streams where recreational fish are found, not commercial seafood. Dr. Oz describes this process as one that contaminates fish found in the ocean. Fish found in the ocean do contain traces of methylmercury, but it is by in large naturally-occurring from processes like underwater volcanic activity.
The FDA states this in its recently released draft report on commercial fish that "most commercial fish species sold in the United States are harvested from the open ocean or from aquaculture sites. Aquacultured fish tend to be raised and harvested quickly without much opportunity to accumulate methylmercury" and "limited data suggest that methylmercury concentrations in commercial fish have not increased or decreased over time." Not only is the science clear about this, the California Courts have ruled twice against the State Attorney General over a signage issue on the grounds that virtually all the trace amounts of methylmercury found in ocean fish is "naturally occurring."
Dr. Oz continues to confuse commercial fish and recreational fish when he announces a study shows that almost all "freshwater" fish found in the U.S. have some mercury in them. That is true, but the "freshwater" fish he is describing are recreational fish from lakes and streams and not the commercial seafood he displayed in the studio. In fact, the study he references did not test the types of seafood available in restaurants and grocery stores at all.
The segment took another disappointing turn when Dr. Oz introduced Jane Hightower as an expert in mercury. Dr. Oz appears to either not care or not be aware that Hightower is a physician with ties to radical environmental activists who has made a cottage industry out of "diagnosing" patients with mercury poisoning. Her work and theories are well outside the medical mainstream and have been questioned by her own colleagues.
With Hightower as his guide, Dr. Oz reviewed what he said were symptoms of mercury poisoning. But nowhere did he mention that there have been no cases of mercury poisoning found in CDC records or peer-reviewed medical journals in the U.S. as the result of the normal consumption of commercial seafood.
With his next guest he discusses the ills of eating two fish meals per week, despite the fact that the American Heart Association recommends people eat at least two servings a week and multiple decades-long studies of fish consumption in the Seychelles Islands found residents there ate 12 servings a week and suffered no ill effects.
Dr. Oz then reveals that he has tested fish and found differing levels of mercury in them. However, he never explains the levels he found or how they compare to federal allowable levels. He claims that sushi grade tuna had the highest level which elicits "ooos" from the studio audience. I wonder if they would have been as impressed if he revealed that the FDA tests fish too and found that on average fresh tuna contained 0.383 parts per million of mercury-that's over two and a half times lower than the FDA's allowable level of 1.0 parts per million, which includes a ten-fold safety factor.
Dr. Oz also claims to have tested canned tuna for mercury and notes, again to "ooos" from the crowd, that albacore tuna was found to contain more mercury than light tuna. He does not share the actual levels he found, and again fails to note that the FDA tested canned tuna as well and found the levels in albacore fell nearly three times lower than the FDA's allowable level and levels in light came in at over eight times lower than the FDA's allowable level.
It is irresponsible and incomplete to look only at mercury and ignore the healthy nutrients in fish. The most comprehensive study on this issue, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found "avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess coronary heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children." And a study published in the Public Library of Science recently estimated 84,000 preventable deaths a year are attributable to low omega-3/seafood intake.
Taken together, this evidence points to another public health question that Dr. Oz ought to address: By overstating the risk from methlymercury in commercial seafood, is Dr. Oz engaging in the sort of scaremongering that will steer people away from eating fish and eventually result in more harm to Americans than good?
I urge you to address and correct this issue on the air and on the Web with haste before more detrimental misinformation is propagated.
We have already begun to correct the record with this YouTube video that we invite you to watch and share with interested parties.
National Fisheries Institute