MSN Lifestyle Article Cans Up Some Alternative Facts
MSN Lifestyle reporter Jessica Suss appears to be caught up in the new alternative facts movement. Her latest article on canned tuna claims in the headline that Research Suggests Canned Tuna Might Not Be Safe to Eat. However… um… yeah… that’s not what research suggests.
Jessica starts her reporting with this blanket statement, “It’s no secret that large-scale fishing operations are bad for the environment.” Really? Since we’re talking about tuna why don’t we look at the very latest in independent research that finds large-scale tuna operations are actually better for the environment than the practices promoted by eco-label initiatives? Maybe a little research into that sweeping claim would have been appropriate, but I digress.
Jessica then asserts that, “current research suggests you can safely eat two meals including canned tuna a week” and then tacks on that “some scientists disagree.”
Let’s look at the first part first. The latest published, peer-reviewed research on this topic comes from the Food and Drug Administration and its study on how much seafood pregnant women can eat. This research is called The Quantitative Assessment of the Net Effects on Fetal Neurodevelopment from Eating Commercial Fish. Perhaps worth a read by someone who is writing on research into seafood consumption.
The FDA’s research finds that pregnant women can eat 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna a week and 148 ounces of canned light tuna. That’s either 14 meals a week or 37 meals a week… not two. And these “limits” only apply to a very specific sub-population: pregnant women. No one else.
Now let’s look at the second part. Here’s where some creative editing and sourcing comes into play. Jessica says research suggests canned tuna might not be safe to eat and she finds a researcher who agrees. But where she finds that researcher is curious. Jessica links to a 2015 Time.com article that does in fact include the dissenting position that she advocates in her article but if you actually click on the link and read the article that’s not the narrative you find. In fact, the Time.com article finds 3 of 5 experts agree that tuna is safe to eat and concludes that the article is “your green light to go fish.” Not quite the way Jessica portrayed it.
This MSN article lands somewhere between click bait and alternative facts… not great real estate if you’re at all interested in credibility.
Mislabeling Study Continues Trend of Headlines but Not Headway
A recent study from researchers at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University checked the DNA of fish ordered at 26 L.A. sushi restaurants over four years and found that 47% of the sushi was mislabeled.
It’s an alarming number and it’s not unique from research completed in different cities by other universities, news outlets, and NGOs. Fraud is illegal, and reports like this help shine a light on the necessity of regulators to be more stringent about enforcing laws that crack down on this criminal act.
What is also alarming, however, is the suggestion that this research indicates the fraud “may occur earlier in the supply chain than the point of sale to consumers.” That may be the case but this conclusion is not based on science or the research completed here.
The study, similar to the previous research in other cities, only completes 2 out of 3 steps.
To find out where the real fish fraud happened, researchers need:
- A menu showing what the fish is called
- A DNA sample of the fish
- An invoice from the restaurant showing what fish they ordered from a supplier
If the invoice says the restaurant ordered snapper, and the menu says it’s snapper, but the DNA test shows it’s tilapia, then you know the restaurant was not at fault and thought it was providing customers with snapper. If the invoice says the restaurant ordered tilapia, the DNA test shows it’s tilapia, but the menu calls it snapper, then you know the restaurant purposely changed the name of the fish on the menu, but knew that the fish they were providing was really tilapia.
This is not rocket science.
The senior author of the study claims that “one has to think that even the restaurants are being duped.” Why? His own research is not able to tell where the switch happened and he even notes in the same release, “it’s hard to know where in the supply chain it begins.” It’s irresponsible to publicly opine about fraud happening at the supplier level when this particular research provides no evidence to demonstrate that.
In this case it would appear to have taken four years to solve half a riddle. Perhaps resources would be better spent solving a whole riddle. Yet another study that says “we found fraud,” without providing any real insight into where the fraud happened or who is responsible for it, makes headlines but doesn’t make headway in solving this challenge.
Illegaler is not a word
Lawmakers in New York state have passed a new law aimed at ensuring consumers know what they’re buying when they purchase fish labeled “white tuna.” The regulation requires any fish sold in a restaurant or market as “white tuna” to come from tuna. Thus making it illegal to label fish, like for instance escolar, as White Tuna.
Well good for them. The Empire State just made fish fraud illegal…er.
Here’s the issue; it has always been illegal to label a fish like escolar as white tuna. ‘Cause… um… it’s not tuna. The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act says misbranded food is illegal. All New York needed to do is enforce laws that are already on the books.
So before other states go running off passing laws that make kidnapping, drug dealing and bank robbery illegal, keep in mind enforcing the laws that already exist can be just as effective and the offenses just as illegal.
Focus on the Facts When it Comes to Fukushima
The latest reports from Oregon say “for the first time, seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear” accident has reached the West Coast. More importantly, the same articles report that researchers have found the “levels are extremely low and don’t pose a danger to humans or the environment.”
That means seafood is and continues to be safe. If you have any questions about the latest science on Fukushima and seafood visit www.FukushimaFishFacts.com
MSN Misses the Mark on Mercury
MSN currently features a highly misleading article by Grant Stoddard of BestLife [“The 40 Unhealthiest Foods if You’re 40+”, November 19, 2016.) It peddles in dangerous falsehoods about tuna consumption, and appears to come from an unvetted source with no track record of credible writing on nutrition.
When Mr. Stoddard writes about albacore tuna as being “high in mercury” and “could lead to cognitive decline” he is directly contravening both federal guidelines and the scientific consensus. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets limits for mercury in seafood at 1.0 parts per million (ppm). This limit includes a ten-fold safety-factor built in, meaning a fish would have to exceed 10.0 ppm to approach levels of concern. According to the FDA, the average can of albacore has 0.35 ppm and the average can of light contains 0.1ppm. This important perspective is left completely out of this reporting.
If that mercury limit were a speed limit, light tuna would be traveling 5.5 mph in a 55mph zone and albacore would be traveling 16.5 mph. Both demonstrably safe and healthy.
In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends Americans eat at least two servings of seafood per week. They also specifically recommend tuna as a healthy option.
Stoddard’s article ignores these facts, and contributes to the dangerous notion that nutritious, affordable, and accessible seafood sources like canned tuna should be avoided based on ancient and over blown mercury fears. This isn’t an inconsequential error. Unnecessarily scaring consumers away from seafood contributes to an ongoing public health crisis that contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths each year according to Harvard University research.
Watch this space to find out if MSN decides to correct the record or if they’ll let poorly researched misinformation stand as nutrition advice.
A mixed bag of reporting from the Washington Post
The Washington Post features what it calls “A user’s guide to buying seafood” today. And they get… some of the story right.
They’re spot on when they write:
- “Do you avoid seafood for fear of contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs? Those fears are largely unfounded, experts say.”
They hit the nail on the head when they note:
- “One thing not to do is move away from the fish counter because you’re in fear, which is certainly understandable with all the information swimming around.”
They’re in lock step with science when they announce:
- “Many studies have concluded that the benefits of the Omega-3 fats in seafood outweigh the potential harm from contaminants.”
Bucking the trend of inaccurate hyperbole they nail it when they ask:
- “Should you buy wild or farmed seafood? It may not really matter, since both are safe to eat.”
But the column’s weaknesses include the fact that the author identifies an “unwillingness to experiment with something new” as the “problem.” “The problem” that should be addressed from a public health perspective is American don’t eat enough seafood. While Americans eat 15.5lbs of seafood a year they eat 70lbs of red meat.
Your average cardiologist isn’t particularly worried about a lack of variety in America’s seafood diet but they are concerned that Harvard researchers have found low omega-3 intake to be the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S, taking 84,000 lives per year.
The column finds fear of things like PCB’s in fish to be “largely unfounded.” Yet makes suggestions about how those who are “concerned about contaminants” can avoid them in seafood. This would have been a great opportunity to dispel the myth of PCBs in fish for that confused and concerned population rather than playing into the fears.
Independent, peer-reviewed research from Harvard University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports seafood broadly makes up only 9% of the PCBs in the average American diet, while products like vegetables make up 20%. No health professional is suggesting people eat fewer vegetables.
Columns that help Americans eat more seafood are a benefit to public health and this one will certainly help some head in the right direction. But hand-wringing over “consumer confusion” followed by a multitude of lists to consult and apps to download actually contributes to the problem. Americans are hardly eating enough seafood to realize the benefits let alone introduce harm.
Did you know the FDA’s own research finds pregnant women can eat 164 ounces of light canned tuna a week without introducing risk? That’s 41 tuna sandwiches a week. Hope you’re hungry mom.
A Washington Post column once tackled this issue before and concluded “the best advice is simply to eat fish; the data show that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Simple and straight forward.
An Accurate Tilapia Tale
Tilapia has a storied history as a healthy, affordable whitefish that has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years. But with its meteoric rise has come a torrent of misinformation. Even for an unassuming seafood staple the axiom; heavy is the head that wears the crown, holds true.
Today’s edition of The Bulletin features an interesting look at the nutritional profile of Tilapia and the distortions that so often accompany reporting on the fish. Here is a case where a reporter actually probed the hyperbole so often printed about Tilapia and came up with a much different and more accurate perspective.
The expose’ finds:
- Nutritionists are frustrated by the lingering negative opinion of Tilapia.
- Experts find, “It’s a very nutritious fish.”
- The nutritional comparison of Tilapia to bacon is derided as “ridiculous.”
- Healthcare providers say dietary misinformation about Tilapia is “scare-mongering of the worst sort.”
In addition to debunking some of the more absurd claims about Tilapia, the story helps examine healthy fats and even aquaculture. It’s worth a read.
Science Based Perspective on New Mercury Study
Recent reporting on a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology suggests mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna have decreased during a similar period of time when mercury levels in north Atlantic waters also dropped.
Reduced environmental mercury levels are good news but reporting on this study appears to have gotten a bit ahead of itself. The study examines a case of correlation, not causation. There are a number of factors that contribute to the mercury levels in fish including the size of the fish and age of the fish and the depth at which they feed.
While this study examines part of the mercury picture, there exists a larger body of studies on this topic that:
- “do not reveal measurable differences over time in methylmercury concentrations in commercial fish generally, nor does the FDA database reveal a trend toward increasing concentrations. Beyond the database, studies of museum samples of open ocean fish that included tuna and swordfish up to 90 years old (Miller et al., 1972; Barber et al., 1972) reported levels consistent with today’s levels. Conditions of storage, including the preservatives used to store samples, could have affected these results, however (Miller et al., 1972; Gibbs et al., 1974). In a more recent timeframe, methylmercury concentrations in Yellowfin tuna caught off Hawaii in 1998 were found to be essentially identical to those caught in the same area in 1971 – a span of 27 years (Kraepiel et al., 2003).” (2014 FDA Net Effect Report)
While interesting, this study is not relevant to the safety or healthfulness of the fish we eat with any regularity in the U.S. For starters the fish tested was Bluefin tuna. This specie is not canned tuna. In fact Americans, per capita, eat about the weight of a paperclip in Bluefin tuna annually. And the level of mercury in canned tuna remains not only unchanged but completely safe.
Light tuna contains 0.1ppm of mercury and albacore contains 0.3ppm. The FDA limit for mercury in fish is 1.0ppm. If that were a speed limit, light tuna would be traveling 5.5 mph in a 55mph zone and albacore would be traveling 16.5 mph. Both demonstrably safe and healthy.
Marketing the Mercury Myth: This Time on Shark Tank
For years we’ve been telling you about how the Safe Catch company mantra feeds into the mercury fear-mongering nonsense that anti-tuna activists have been peddling for years. And we’ve illustrated how their marketing pushes a solution in search of a problem. Well, they’re back and this time they’re on the popular TV show Shark Tank.
Perhaps on tonight’s show it would be better to focus on what they don’t tell you rather than what they do tell you.
- I’d venture to guess they will tell you: FDA’s limit for mercury in seafood is 1.0 parts per million (ppm.)
- I’d venture to guess they won’t tell you: The FDA’s limit includes a ten-fold safety-factor built in, meaning a fish would actually have to exceed levels of 10.0 ppm to even approach concern.
- I’d venture to guess they will tell you: Their tuna has mercury levels below .1 ppm.
- I’d venture to guess they won’t tell you: According to the FDA, the average canned light tuna has mercury levels of 0.128 ppm.
- I’d venture to guess they will tell you: Their tuna is “healthier.”
- I’d venture to guess they won’t tell you: The FDA’s Net Effects Report, based on 10 years of peer-reviewed published science, found that pregnant women could safely consume 164 ounces of canned light tuna and 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna every week. And that’s regular old canned tuna, not some expensive brand that makes low mercury claims.
- I’d venture to guess they will tell you: Their tuna has the “lowest mercury.”
- I’d venture to guess they won’t tell you: If the 1ppm FDA limit is akin to the 55 MPH speed limit then run of the mill, regular old Albacore Tuna is going 16.5 MPH and normal Light Tuna is going 5.5MPH. What exactly are they protecting consumers from?
If marketing is able to convince American shoppers to pay more for a product that is no different before or after testing, perhaps science can convince them that the lightness in their wallet counts as weight loss.
The Dr. Oz Misinformation Machine Turns to Farmed Salmon
Dr. Oz has a shocking history of getting important nutrition and medical advice wrong. In fact, he even has the distinction of having been called on the carpet by Congress over his absurd prognostications and selling what can only be described as snake oil:
His failure to employ real experts and glean accurate nutrition information for his viewers now extends to farmed salmon.
On The Dr. Oz Show today he’s talking about farmed salmon and rather than turning to actual aquaculture experts, involved in fish farming for a living, Dr. Oz turns to a food critic who writes books about “faked food,” Larry Olmsted. When Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigated farmed salmon for the CBS show 60 Minutes, he called on doctors and dietitians in addition to experts like Ian Roberts from Marine Harvest. Dr. Gupta’s thorough exploration came to a much clearer conclusion and one that stands in contrast to Dr. Oz’s hyperbole.
For starters, Dr. Oz embarrassingly marginalizes his already marginal credibility right off the bat with this exchange:
Olmsted: The good news is the farmed salmon does contain at least as much of the omega-3’s, the good stuff, as the wild salmon.
Dr. Oz: It does?
Olmsted: Sometimes more.
Dr. Oz: Why is that? I would think it would have less because they’re not, the farmed salmon, are not eating the krill and the shrimp.
Olmsted: Um… it’s added in, it’s built into their feed.
Dr. Oz: I guess there’s more fat in the salmon as well when it comes as farm raised. That’s… because we’ve been telling our viewers that the omega-3 content is quite different but it’s not?
Olmsted: It’s not. It’s at least as good in the farmed.
Don’t underestimate how damaging that overt admission by Dr. Oz is. He says, on national television, that a core claim about farmed salmon that he has made over and over to his audience is just plain wrong.
Despite the fact that it’s Olmsted who corrects Dr. Oz, his presentation is primarily not a science-based effort and he does allow Oz and his producers to perpetuate inaccuracies. For instance, the idea that farm raised salmon are “dyed.” Dr. Oz compares salmon feed to “self-tanning supplements.” Interestingly on 60 Minutes Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s investigation came to a different conclusion:
- “It’s not accurate to call these artificial dyes. I think people conjure up this image of the farmed salmon being injected with something that causes it to turn that pink color. That’s not what’s happening here. It’s 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.”
Oz’s overwhelmingly skeptical chronicle of farmed salmon stands in stark contrast to the 60 Minutes piece, where Dr. Gupta says:
- “There are people who say I only order wild salmon—I guess the question would be, why are you doing that? If you’re doing it because you think it’s better for your health, for health reasons, you’d have a hard time makin’ that case.”
Despite Oz’s own unfavorable narrative about farmed salmon, Todd Mitgang, Executive Chef of Crave Fishbar, is featured on the very same episode saying,
- “I think farmed salmon, aquaculture, is finally here. Years ago when I was selling seafood I probably never would have looked at farmed products. Now farmed salmon is a product I can look to for consistency, for quality and it’s sustainable.”
To attract viewers Oz needs a controversy, he needs shock and aw, even outrage. When he doesn’t have that he works hard to manufacture it and despite his colleague’s analysis, sound science and even his own guests, he takes aim at farmed salmon and produces a show that contradicts, confuses and confounds… not the sign of a well-meaning doctor.