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January 13, 2011, Washington, D.C. – The environmental activist group Got Mercury? is shopping the results of its recycled “mercury testing” story to reporters throughout California. As always, Got Mercury? is not telling the whole story. It relies on reporters, editors and producers who don’t ask questions to carry its message.
Here’s how GotMercury? hopes the story will play out. The group approaches a journalist and claims to have tested seafood and found that for certain samples the mercury levels were above federal averages and others exceeded the FDA’s “action level” of 1 part per million (ppm.) With this information the group then suggests this is evidence of a public health crisis.
What GotMercury? does not tell reporters is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “action level” for mercury in seafood contains a 1,000% safety factor. According to FDA, that buffer “was established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.”
This means that since the FDA’s limit is 1 ppm, harm or “adverse effects” are associated with a level of 10 ppm. Fish with levels that approach or even slightly exceed that 1 ppm are not associated with causing harm.
Reporters should remember that fish scare stories can depress seafood consumption at a time when experts have concluded the mercury risk has been over blown and omega-3 deficiency is costing lives.
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics says “always question sources’ motives.” Got Mercury? is an environmental activist group without expertise in public health or nutrition. It is a subsidiary of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, a group whose primary goal is to hinder commercial seafood sales so fewer Turtles end up as bycatch.
Reporters who are interested in the real science should contact independent scientific experts in the field of mercury and seafood like Dr. Nicholas Ralston from the University of North Dakota or Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian from Harvard University.
For more than 60 years, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and its members have provided American families with the variety of sustainable seafood essential to a healthy diet. For more information visit: www.AboutSeafood.com.