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NYT Well Blog Promotes Contrived Controversy

The latest edition of the New York Times Well Blog highlights blogger Tara Parker-Pope’s unwillingness to accept the current state of science about seafood, a trait seen all too often in myriad environmental activist groups. These groups have no qualms about scaring people away from nourishing foods and thereby negatively impacting child development when the facts don’t conform to their larger pollution agenda. This strategy marginalizes their voice in this discussion and unfortunately Parker-Popes as well.

Parker-Pope suggests that the debate over mercury in fish, tuna specifically, rages a-new based on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees (DGAC) latest findings. This characterization is born from the desperate spin of activist groups. These groups, and literate people everywhere, can easily read the DGACs findings, along with the latest work from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization and the FDA on the topic, and find they have come to the conclusion that for years pregnant women have been erroneously warned away from seafood. But for activist groups to embrace the findings of independent, published, peer-reviewed science that says hyperbolic mercury warnings have done more harm than good, is to admit they were wrong. Stronger, more confident groups would step up, accept the science and work on new strategies, but ones that rely on rhetoric in staunch opposition to reality continue to obfuscate the facts, and in the process carry on doing more harm than good.

The suggestion that the jury is still out on this issue and the overt claim that the panel withheld a recommendation about tuna is, at its core, not accurate. Parker-Pope even briefly discusses the panel’s very clear recommendation. Here it is:

  • Based on the most current evidence on mercury levels in albacore tuna provided in the Report of the Joint United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption, 2010, the DGAC recommends that the EPA and FDA re-evaluate their current recommendations for women who are pregnant (or for women who may become pregnant) or breastfeeding to limit white albacore tuna to not more than 6 ounces a week.

In the Well Blog the science of that recommendation is glazed over in a rush to give voice to the advocacy groups who are upset about it. But the reality is the DGAC clearly suggests the FDA and EPA go back and re-evaluate their current limit on albacore tuna for pregnant women based on the latest science. And what does the FAO/WHO report, cited, and the FDA Net Effect report conclude? They conclude that the benefits outweigh the risks. In fact the FDA’s net effect report raises the albacore consumption ceiling from 6 oz to 56 oz per week. Yet Parker-Pope and MPP prefer to ignore this stark conclusion and claim the issue remains trapped in a vortex of debate. It does not.

After herself posting a litany of clear scientific conclusions and quotes from real experts who say the benefits outweigh the risks, Parker-Pope digs deep to turn the narrative back to the fictitious debate that is supposedly raging. To do that she leans on a recent Consumer Reports article in which the consumer electronics magazine expresses concerns about mercury in tuna. What she fails to report is the FDA blasted that very Consumer Reports article as out of step and unreliable:

“The Consumer Reports analysis is limited in that it focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish. As a result, the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.

In her conclusion Parker-Pope suggests readers look to a turtle preservation group that employs not a single medical doctor or dietitian for ongoing nutrition advice. This direction is given in the face of an avalanche of independent data that concludes Americans don’t eat enough seafood.

Lets be clear about what we are talking about: public policy strategy executed by groups like MPP. Blog postings like this one are designed to promote a narrative that claims there is an ongoing debate where there is not. Reasonable, responsible, informed members of the nutrition and scientific community have identified the conclusions of more than a decade’s worth of science and understand that the benefits of seafood consumption, including tuna, outweigh the risks. They understand independent research tells us that risks from minute amounts of mercury in seafood have been overstated and that warnings are making mothers eschew a food that clearly aids in fetal development.

If the MPPs of the world make enough noise and the Tara Parker-Popes of the world accept their flawed narrative as gospel, they can distract from the overwhelming evidence that they are responsible for creating a public health problem. They can divert attention away from the fact that the mercury boogeyman they’ve so often traded on has been relegated to a bin that contains the remains of anti-vaccine campaigns and sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.

EWG & MPP Offer Well-Crafted, Nonsensical Rantings for the Record

This week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Mercury Policy Project (MMP) continue a tradition of embarrassingly out-of-step public proclamations. The duos latest ramblings expose the groups as not only at odds with a library of independent, published, peer-reviewed nutrition science but as a pair whose zeal for rhetoric over reality now sees them creating public health harm rather than preventing it.

This time EWG and, the little-know but always hyperbolic, MPP is challenging the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees science-based recommendations on canned tuna. Please keep in mind, this Committee is made up of a group of world renowned experts who collectively hold 13 PhDs, 4 RDs, 3 MDs, 1 Dr. of Public Health, 1 Dr. of Science and a Mastersin Public Health. Despite the fact that this panel includes nutrition epidemiologists, cardiovascular doctors, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, cancer researchers, fetal/infant development experts and public health specialists— EWG and MPP think they know better. EWG and MPP are made up, by and large, of lawyers and lobbyists.

So as not to totally marginalize themselves the lobbying groups note that;

Research shows omega-3s improve adult health by lowering blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and by reducing blood pressure. Studies also show children born to women who consume omega-3s during pregnancy have higher IQs and improved nervous system development.

But they oppose the continued encouragement of canned tuna as part of a healthy diet. Their opposition files in the face of an FDA led, decade long analysis of independent, published, peer-reviewed science.

EWG and MPP even claim that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees conclusion that the benefits of seafood consumption outweigh the risks of contaminants, including mercury, is new and is a departure from past principles. This claim is not just a misstatement, it isa demonstrablefalsehood. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines said very clearly that the, benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women.

So when these two are not just outright lying about existing federal nutrition policy theyre attacking a safe, healthy, affordable protein despite an avalanche of science that says their nonsensical rantings are just that.

Feng Shui and Fish Faceoff

Sometimes infographics are funny. Sometimes they are enlightening. Sometimes theyre just plain wrong and make the people who promote them look um whats the word ignorant. Right, thats it ignorant.

Case in point, here we have little-known illustrating exactly how little they do in fact know with an infographic that promotes 35 facts that will make you never want to eat fish again. Problem is the facts are… um not facts and the site is an interior design forum.

Farmed salmon is died pink— not according to CBS news magazine 60 Minutes. Youre choice for hard hitting investigative journalism; 60 Minutes or an infographic from an interior design website.

Farmed salmon has tons of PCBs in itnot according to Harvard researchers who note that seafood broadly, not just farmed salmon, makes up only 9% of the PCBs in the average American diet, while products like vegetables make up 30% (JAMA 2006;296:1885-1899.)

All fisheries will collapse by 2048 not according to the author of the study cited.

If your website cant tell the difference between vegan propaganda and fact based nutrition and sustainability information about seafood, perhaps you shouldnt be posting things about seafood.

Feng Shui and furniture yes.

Fish no.

Healthy Trade

There is little doubt that delicious domestic seafood is an iconic part of Americas wider harvest. Shrimp and oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, salmon from Washington, crabs from Alaska and Lobsters from Maine are as red, white and blue as the oft intoned amber waves of grain. But via  Imports Work for America we can see just how important imported seafood is to our economy.

According to the Department of Commerce the seafood industry as a whole impacts a little over a million jobs and $116 billion in sales. Imported seafood impacts 454,352 of those jobs and $77 billion in sales. Imported seafood is part of not only the American waterfront but the American Main Street, providing families, retailers and restaurants alike with healthy affordable meals while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines are clear when they say Americans should eat at least two seafood meals a week for optimal health and fish brought in from around the globe and harvested right here at home combine to fill that need.

Imported seafood helps keep America and the seafood community healthy.

8 Reasons You Shouldn’t Trust Yahoo! Health?

January 16, 2015

Ms. Michele Promaulayko

Editor in Chief

Yahoo! HealthYahoo! Health


Dear Ms. Promaulayko,

This morning on Yahoo! Health I was surprised to read the headline, 8 Reasons You Should Never Order the Salmon. I was interested to find out what science might be behind this hyperbolic headline, until I realized that this does not appear to be an article produced and written by Yahoo! Health but an advertisement of some sort for a fad diet booked titled Zero Belly Diet, despite the fact that nowhere on your page does it say this is an advertisement or that space for this article has been provided via a financial agreement.

It concerns me that Yahoo! Health would allow for such a blatant violation of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

Whats more, even as a paid placement the content is shockingly inaccurate and serves to not only diminish the credibility of Yahoo! Health but ultimately call into question the sites very editorial oversight.

The piece concocts an outlandish scenario where salmon are being dyed a particular color based on a painters color chart, rather than simply eating carotenoids. This is not only false it has been investigated and refuted by the likes of Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the venerable CBS news magazine 60 Minutes. In response to accusations that suggest salmon are being artificially dyed Dr. Gupta says:

Its not accurate to call these artificial dyes. I think people conjure up this image of the farm salmon being injected with something that causes it to turn that pink color. Thats not whats happening here. Its a much more natural occurring process where the farmed salmon eat a type of food that causes a reaction in the body, just like the wild salmon does, and that causes that more pinkish color.

Later the report you promote suggests salmon is lacking critical vitamins. Again, this is unsubstantiated rhetoric that is contradicted by not only the current state of medical and nutrition research but by your own peer media who have reported on this topic. Reading through independent, published, peer-reviewed research, like the kind found here in the Annuls of Internal Medicine and the subsequent reporting on those findings in the New York Times, makes an embarrassing mockery of the advertorial content found on your site this morning.

While I dont plan to highlight every erroneous statement contained in this piece, I will note one more component of misreporting that may help you understand how ridiculous much of the content is. Not only does the report link to a discredited diatribe about tilapia and bacon, it also suggests that salmon contains dangerous levels of PCBs. Dr. Guptas report puts that fallacy to rest when he reports, the levels are so low, its almost a drop in the bucket. The fact is PCBs from all fish make up 9% of the PCBs found in the American diet, while vegetables make up 20%. Would Yahoo! Health endorse an article that suggests Americans should never order the vegetables?

As content created by some sort of revenue generating agreement this report should be labeled as an advertisement. If it is your contention that this piece is in fact Yahoo! Health-edited journalism, I asked that it be submitted for immediate internal editorial review and your findings be publicly posted.

Please let us know how you intend to addresses this issue.

Thank you.

Gavin Gibbons

Vice President, Communications

National Fisheries Institute

cc: Ms. Molly Shea

Assistant Editor

Yahoo! Health

Yahoo! Health

The Devil Didnt Go Down to Georgia

When Albany, Georgia’s WALB news director Dawn Hobby asked, for the third time, for NFI to indicate what we perceived to be factual errors in their fundamentally flawed seafood report, we suspected there would be no correcting of the record on their end.

WALB claims three times (twice in the video segment, once in the written report) that the FDA says big eye tuna should be avoided by pregnant women. This is demonstrably incorrect. A single Google search would reveal to WALB that the FDA lists four rarely-eaten fish that pregnant women should avoid: shark, tilefish, King Mackerel, and swordfish. Nowhere on any federal guidance about seafood consumption for pregnant women is bigeye tuna listed as a species to avoid.

Yet, according to Ms. Hobby, our story did not state the FDA recommends avoiding bigeye tuna. Um except when it did, three times. Details details. Were not sure how we could have made these errors any more clear to WALB:

Then theres also the embarrassing fact that WALB lists 5 fish for pregnant women to avoid, after telling viewers there are 4 more evidence that details and facts keep getting in the way of their reporting on seafood and nutrition.

It only took 4 email exchanges for WALB to reveal the source that the station identifies in its report as the FDA was not in fact the FDA:

Not to mention, the report about the FDAs June 2014 updated seafood advice links to the now decade-old advice from 2004.

Some say the devil is in the details, but it appears this time he didnt make the trip to Georgia.

USA Today Botches Consumer Reports Reporting

August 28, 2014

David Callaway

Editor in Chief

USA Today

Dear Mr. Callaway,

I was disappointed to find numerous, troubling issues associated with Linda Lombrosos article Pregnant women should not eat tuna: Consumer Reports.

The article begins by simply noting that, the new advisory goes against current FDA and EPA recommendations. The context for the clear contradiction in advice is totally missing. The recommendations given by the FDA and EPA are based on a 10 year review of 110 published, peer reviewed studies. The volume of time, attention and resources given to the FDA/EPA study absolutely dwarfs any review a consumer electronics magazine could accomplish, yet both are given equal editorial weight. Such misrepresentation does your readers a disservice.

To be clear, an opinion expressed by a consumer magazine and a decade long, published, peer-reviewed investigation by the worlds preeminent food and environmental safety regulators are not, and should not be reported on as, equal parts in a so called debate. The relevant scientific bodies and regulators have ruled on this issue and that ruling clearly contrasts what Consumer Reports writes. Lending disproportionate weight to one side in order to propagate a debate so Gannett might be afforded the ability to report on a controversy is an unfortunate failure of journalism tenets. From a ground truth science perspective there is no genuine controversy here. From an overly simplistic narrative designed to feed an audience digestible pop-culture friendly reports, perhaps there is a controversy. We expect better from Gannett.

Accurate scientific context is embarrassingly missing throughout the piece. For example, Consumer Reports effectively dupes your reporter into printing its rhetoric about mercury levels without any challenge whatsoever. Lombroso quotes the magazine as being perturbed after claiming certain FDA data on light tuna found levels of mercury that were twice what the average is. The FDA limit for mercury in fish is 1.0ppm (with a 10-fold safety factor built in, making the level of concern 10.0ppm.) The average mercury level for canned light tuna is 0.1ppm. The simple math shows Consumer Reports, and by ignorant proxy, your reporter expressing public alarm about mercury levels at 0.2 ppm. Keep in mind, this is despite the demonstrable fact that the FDAs action level of 1.0ppm was established to limit consumers methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.

I look forward to your review of and comment on our concerns.

Gavin Gibbons

Vice President, Communications

National Fisheries Institute

Cc: Rosalind Jackler

Deputy National News Editor

USA Today

Reuters Reporting Misses the Mark on Suspicious Mercury & Mislabeling Story

August 28, 2014

Michele Gershberg
Editor, Health & Pharma News


Dear Ms. Gershberg,

I am writing to express great concerns about your online article, Fishery mislabeling could mean more mercury than buyers bargain for.

In the report, Janice Neumann writes that Patagonian Toothfish from two regions studied had averages of 0.35 ppm and 0.89 ppm of mercury respectively. Before that, she notes that FDAs limit for mercury in fish is 1.0 ppm. The demonstrable fact presented here is that Patagonian Toothfish from both regions have mercury levels below FDAs threshold. The speculatory nature of the study Reuters is reporting on turns the actual work into a solution in search of a problem.

Based on the content of this report, weve seen fundamentally inaccurate headlines such as Fox News; Mislabeled fish may expose consumers to high levels of mercury. This does a disservice to readers, scaring them aware from a safe and healthy protein.

The article leaves out fact that the limit for mercury in fish has a built-in 1000% safety factor. Meaning, FDAs action level of 1.0 ppm for mercury in fish was established to limit consumers methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with any adverse effects; 10.0ppm. And again, Patagonian Toothfish from both regions had levels below FDAs legal limit, yet this article serves to scare consumers by leading them to believe Patagonian Toothfish from a certain region, has enough mercury to put them in danger. This is untrue. Regardless of the labeling narrative the fundamental truth is that the levels of mercury found were in no cases high.

Its also important to note this study looked at only 38 samples. That is not a representative sample of the volume of seafood in the value chain at all. Last year, Americans consumed 4.8 billion pounds of seafood. Its irresponsible to extrapolate wide ranging conclusions from a study that looked at 38 fish. . The Food Marketing Institute estimates that there are 37,459 grocery stores in the U.S. This study looked at only 38 samples. It is almost laughable to suggest this sample is representative of Chilean sea bass from the local grocery store.

Ms. Neumann quotes the author of the studys concerns with pregnant women eating Patagonian Toothfish and also quotes an environmental expert who warns against pregnant women poisoning their children. She did not however note that the FDA, in June, came out with a 10 year review of peer-reviewed, published mercury-in-fish science that concluded pregnant women arent eating nearly enough and need to strive for at least 8-12 ounces per week. In none of the 110 studies FDA relied on for its conclusions is Patagonian Toothfish mentioned as a species of concern. Its questionable at best that Ms. Neumann reached out to an environmental health professor instead of doctors and dietitians at the FDA when discussing pregnancy nutrition and health.

We request that, at a minimum, you update this story to include the indisputable facts that were omitted from the current version.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing on you.

Lynsee Fowler
Communications Manager
National Fisheries Institute

cc: Janice Neumann
Patricia Reaney

Question for Roberto A. Ferdman: What Is It That You Dont Understand?

Washington Post wonkblog writer Roberto A. Ferdman continues to write about canned tuna and continues to leave holes in his stories big enough to drive a truck through.

This time he writes;

  • Despite Consumer Reports’ plea, there is still much debate about how much mercury tuna actually absorbs, and whether what mercury it does contain poses any serious harm to humans

There isnt much debate, Roberto, theres Consumer Reports and then theres more than 100 independent, published, peer-reviewed studies analyzed by FDA that brought it to a conclusion that says pregnant women can eat up to 56 oz. of albacore tuna every week.

Meanwhile the FDA speaks directly to the Consumer Reports recommendation when it says the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade. The FDA goes on to highlight the fact that, Consumer Reports analysis is limited in that it focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish.

Is the Wonkblog a place where reporters would say theres much debate over whether vaccines cause autism? Because, despite one vocal crowd, science tells us they do not.

FDA Blasts Consumer Reports Irresponsible Tuna Recommendation

While Consumer Reports gives bad advice to pregnant women about tuna consumption the FDA says consumers should not fixate on mercury:

“The Consumer Reports analysis is limited in that it focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish,” the FDA said in a statement. “As a result, the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade. The statement points to an FDA survey in 2012 that found that one in five pregnant women avoided fish for long periods and that 75 percent of women ate fewer than 4 ounces a week. “Studies with pregnant women in particular have consistently found that fish is important for growth and development before birth,” the statement said.