April 22, 2010, Washington, D.C. – The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) is urging reporters and editors to exercise caution when reporting on a study concerning sushi tuna and mercury that was recently published in the British journal, Biology Letters. The research, conducted in part by the American Museum of Natural History, ignores the most recent peer-reviewed science on fish and nutrition that shows the overall effect of eating fish as a whole food – omega-3s, selenium, lean protein, traces of mercury and all – is a boost to heart and brain health.
It is crucial to understand this study does not look at how eating fish affects our health one way or the other. It is inaccurate and irresponsible to draw inferences about health or risk from the fact that different species of fish have different levels of mercury.
There is nothing remarkable about the studies main finding that different species of fish have different levels of mercury, something which is a long-understood fact. Recent research confirms traces of mercury in ocean fish are naturally-occurring and levels vary by the depth fish feed at and what they eat.
The study claims that all species tested had readings that “exceed or approach levels permissible” by the U.S. The fact is the FDA mercury limit for seafood includes a 1,000 percent safety factor ("FDA’s action level of 1 ppm for methyl mercury in fish was established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.) And approaching that limit or even slightly exceeding it does not equal health risk.
It is also important to note that the study tracks very closely against a story that ran in the New York Times in 2008 (click here for more details), one that was subsequently debunked by a number of independent media critics as well as publicly rebuked by the newspaper’s own public editor.
The researchers in the latest study rightly note that a lack of understanding about the trace amounts of naturally-occurring mercury found in seafood, like that found in all fish, can unnecessarily discourage people from eating seafood. This is a study that tests mercury levels in fish, but stops short of any work exploring what -- if anything -- those levels mean for health.
In the interest of a balanced and accurate article we must insist that an independent nutrition scientist with an expertise in this area be interviewed about the health effects of eating fish if that subject is broached in relation to this study. Click here for a list of those experts.