Consumer Reports’ Contradications
If you’re a Consumer Reports reader, you’re hearing this week that shrimp is a superfood – high in protein, low in fat and calories, and a great source of vitamins and valuable minerals. Ahh, yes, and maybe soon Consumer Reports will “reveal” that drinking water is good for you, or that Barack Obama won his second term as President.
Doctors and dietitians have been recommending shrimp as part of a healthy diet for years, while Consumer Reports has confused consumers with contradictory and sensational reports about the shellfish.
In fact, Consumer Reports illustrates how marginalized its reporting is by beginning the new shrimp report with, “If you read our recent investigation, ‘How Safe is Your Shrimp?’ you might be inclined to avoid these crustaceans altogether.” It’s embarrassing that the organization admits it scared readers away from the very food it’s now urging them to eat. But, hey, that’s Consumer Reports – the gold standard of journalism.
In April the organization is warning consumers of all the “downsides” of shrimp, admittedly scaring them away from the food altogether. And in August, it’s highlighting all the nutritional benefits of shrimp, even providing a recipe from the CR test kitchen’s in-house chef Claudia Gallo that is “colorful and healthy.”
This time, Consumer Reports got it right, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see another inaccurate scare-story about this very subject in a few months’ time. It’s simple: Consumer Reports can’t be trusted, especially when it comes to important nutrition information.
The Rest of The Story: What The New York Times Doesn’t Want You To Read
When it was time to talk about commercial seafood The New York Times didn’t call the seafood community, it called Greenpeace. Then it gave Greenpeace a 586 word column to spout their misinformed fundraising rhetoric and when we called them on it and asked for equal space they offered us a 200 word blurb in the comment string. Thanks New York Times, that’s a tremendous demonstration of journalistic balance. What follows is what we would have contributed had the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” section actually had room for real debate:
There is a rich irony that comes with Greenpeace lecturing anyone on “standards of responsibility.” The group that recently trampled on Peru’s famed Nazca lines, a stunt that “scarred one of the country’s most treasured national symbols,” uses this forum to attack commercial fishing with its usual brand of unchecked hyperbole. Far from “ruining” the oceans, the seafood community not only sets high standards it drives adherence to those standards and pushes for the innovations that will be the future of fishing.
Tuna companies, often the focus of Greenpeace’s attacks, have zero tolerance for illegal labor practices. They recognize the challenges associated with labor in some areas of the seafood sector, while demonstrating a consistent commitment to taking on those challenges and pushing governments to focus on enforcement. For responsible companies like Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist these are real world issues they are dedicated to addressing, not fund raising fodder that whimsically peppers opinion columns.
Greenpeace does a tremendous job of pointing out things they have a problem with but make no demonstrable effort to offer solutions.
The seafood community and its reasonable NGO partners are committed to both identifying challenges and working to address them. The very same tuna canners that Greenpeace vilifies have partnered with WWF to spearhead the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF.)
On these pages Greenpeace complains about turtle and shark bycatch but fails to note that ISSF invests literally millions of dollars every year in at-sea research aimed at bycatch mitigation. Now more than 90% of turtles caught by tuna purse seiners are released alive. And best practices designed for sharks can save 960,000 a year, in the Indian Ocean alone. Those committed to real seafood sustainability bring results to the table not just rhetoric. But then again the scientific experts at ISSF have more than 342 years of collective experience in fisheries management.
While Greenpeace complains about traceability methods it conveniently ignores the fact that ISSF already requires companies to maintain credible traceability systems.
Credibility and responsibility go hand in hand. Incredibly irresponsible commentary based on thinly sourced rhetoric serves to do nothing for the conversation about seafood sustainability but everything to marginalize an activist group that has been relegated to making noise in the parking lot while others are making real advances.
Vice President, Communications
National Fisheries Institute
Greenpeace Pushes Annual Fundraising Tool
Greenpeace is touting the latest in its long line of opaque, subjective, and hopelessly flawed “reports” on retail seafood. This year’s model may have lost the juvenile aesthetic and top hat donning cartoon fish of previous iterations, but the substance—or lack thereof—remains much the same. It is still first and foremost a fundraising tool and evidence of that can be found in its erratic methodology and narrative.
Where Greenpeace’s “CATO report” does break new ground it is highly troubling. No longer content to hide its dangerous ulterior agenda behind a thin veneer of inference and insinuation, Greenpeace is now openly calling for Americans to “eat less seafood.” This not only destroys whatever shreds of credibility Greenpeace had left, but puts its fringe activists at odds with just about every medical and nutritional expert in world including the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s one thing to advocate for misguided shopping practices, but when it actively abets an ongoing public health crisis that is impairing fetal cognitive development and contributing to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, Greenpeace is crossing a dangerous line.
The rest of the “report” consists of the same kind of unsupported and ideologically motivated reasoning we’ve come to expect from Greenpeace. The document purports to rank seafood retailers according to objective empirical standards (right down to the decimal point), but provides zero explanation on how scores are actually calculated. This is especially ironic considering “transparency” is one of the criteria on which retailers are judged, a value Greenpeace appears to support only selectively.
Where Greenpeace does give readers breadcrumbs about its methodology, it openly contradicts itself. Consider for instance that the “report” essentially admits that Greenpeace’s seafood “Red List” is useless. The list is “not comprehensive” while at the same time fish appearing on it can be sourced in a “responsible” manner, by the group’s own admission. In other words, if a fish is not on the list it can still be bad, and if it is on the list it can still be good.
Similarly, in virtually the same breath, the “report” goes from urging retailers to source from Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) to saying that sourcing from FIPs just isn’t good enough. As anyone who has ever tried to engage Greenpeace on seafood sustainability knows, nothing is ever good enough. That’s why they have refused to take part in the invaluable sustainability work of the scientists, fishery experts, and environmental stakeholders at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
In this year’s report Greenpeace editorializes on labor practices without noting that our members do not and will not tolerate labor abuses or unfair practices, either inside their companies and or among their suppliers and partners.
Retailers are starting to realize the futility of dealing with the strong-arm tactics and capricious standards of Greenpeace, and have wisely stopped participating. There is simply no upside to negotiating with activists who are happy to rake companies over the coals whether they cooperate or not.
Worst of all, even as Greenpeace unscientifically and arbitrarily ranks retailers for their practices, it refuses to conduct environmental or economic impact studies of its own preferred fishery policies—perhaps because they know the methods they favor would hurt both the environment and ordinary American consumers.
The latest “CATO report” proves that Greenpeace has yet to learn from years of embarrassing missteps, and that they’ve moved onto even more dangerous ground in encouraging Americans to eat less seafood at a time when low seafood consumption is already putting Americans at risk. Retailers and the press have begun to take notice. Greenpeace donors will likely be next.
More of the Same from Safe Catch
You may have recently seen reporting about something called Safe Catch, it’s promoting a seafood product that is actually a solution… in search of a problem. News about “a new tuna manufacturer called Safe Catch” is more like a repacking of a failed product; Safe Harbor Certified Seafood.
Why has the company’s first attempt at profiting off mercury fear-mongering been such a disappointment? To begin, the very industry Safe Harbor so aggressively defamed (with claims that hundreds of thousands of children are at risk for mercury poisoning) are the very ones they wanted as their customer base. Whoops. So, while that hasn’t been a success for Safe Harbor, this latest endeavor is another chance to use mercury-testing technology by targeting a new audience to scare: the premium health food buyer.
But inherent problems with Safe Harbor’s business model exist for Safe Catch as well: the mercury levels in commercial seafood are just the same as they were nearly 100 years ago, no one in the United States is getting sick from mercury in fish (there has never been a case of mercury-poisoning from the normal consumption of commercial seafood in any published medical journal), and testing tuna – that have contained trace amounts of mercury since the beginning of time – does not add any value to a customer, nor does it make the product safer.
FDA’s limit for mercury in seafood is 1.0 parts per million (ppm), with a ten-fold safety-factor built in, meaning a fish would actually have to exceed dose levels of 10.0 ppm to approach any adverse effects. According to the FDA, canned light tuna has 0.128 ppm and canned white tuna has 0.35 ppm, far below the FDA’s threshold and any levels associated with harm.
In fact, last June the FDA released its Net Effects Report, based on 10 years of peer-reviewed published science that was used as the basis for the updated draft advice to pregnant women about eating seafood. The report 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.
Let’s put the levels of mercury in canned tuna in perspective. If the 1ppm FDA limit is akin to the 55 MPH speed limit then run of the mill Albacore Tuna is going 16.5 MPH and Light Tuna is going 5.5MPH.
Meanwhile, Safe Catch’s website is hard to look at for anyone in the legitimate health or nutrition community:
- While they bash brands that “precook away nutrients” doctors, dietitians and groups like the American Heart Association call canned tuna (the pre-cooked variety) one of the healthiest foods on the planet that you should be eating.
- They go on to congratulate themselves as being, “The only brand with a tuna that meets Consumer Reports ‘Low Mercury’ criteria for pregnant moms and children. The strictest mercury limits of any brand.” They forget to mention, however, that the FDA blasted Consumer Reports for its last misleading report on canned tuna saying, “the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.”
- Safe Catch also boasts that it’s, “The only brand with a tuna that meets Environmental Working Group’s “Best Seafood” criteria for mercury levels. Eat pure. Live pure.” Ah, yes, it’s always good to have the professional fear monger and anti-vaccination-conspiracy-theory-pusher, promoting your product.
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.
Dear Greenpeace USA
Dear Greenpeace USA,
We are in receipt of your petition, and are responding on behalf of member companies Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist. We’ve reviewed your petition and attached letter and have found several inaccurate aspects and outright misinformation that we would appreciate you address.
While we always welcome feedback from consumers, it does concern us that some of the petition’s signatories appear to come from communities of questionable provenance like “Jerrabomberra, North Carolina”. It is our sincere hope that you have vetted and authenticated this list before delivery.
Additionally, your signatories deserve to know your claim that our member companies “refuse to source from more [sic] sustainable fishing methods” is false. We have worked for years with the scientists, ocean experts, industry leaders, and environmental champions at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to craft effective, enforceable, and verifiable sustainability practices. Bycatch rates are at historic lows and the majority of our fisheries are healthy, but we are constantly looking for ways to advance our efforts.
By contrast, Greenpeace USA has never conducted a single environmental impact study of its preferred catch methods, which, signatories should know, would have a carbon impact orders of magnitude larger than current practices. Nor has Greenpeace attempted to empirically study the effect on consumers of the considerable cost increases implied by its favored approach. Perhaps this lack of scientific rigor is due to the fact that your current seafood campaign lead has no expertise, scientific or otherwise, in marine fisheries, and is a political organizer by trade.
You have been invited to educate yourselves on the realities of tuna sustainability by joining the ISSF Environmental Stakeholder Committee, an invitation that you have so far refused for over 1400 days.
What’s more, your signatories should also know that the accusation that our member companies are complicit in “unsafe working conditions and other human rights concerns” is an unfortunate and unsubstantiated smear, designed to elicit a hyperbolic and visceral response as opposed to foster actual dialogue about tuna sustainability. Our companies do not tolerate labor abuses or unfair practices in their companies and or among their suppliers and partners, and have Code of Conducts in place that protect the fair treatment of their workers.
We hope that you will reach out to the petition’s actual and verified signatories—and share these facts.
Vice President, Communications
National Fisheries Institute
A Stern Look At Seafood Scare Stories
In 2012, well known radio and TV host Howard Stern announced he had become a pescetarian. Fish became the outspoken personality’s primary source of protein as he embarked on a new and healthier lifestyle.
Three years later the baseless rhetoric spewed by groups bent on distorting seafood’s inherently healthy building blocks has Stern confused. On his show Stern recently noted his own mercury levels with concern. What he didn’t note is that there has never been a single case of mercury poisoning from the normal consumption of commercial seafood found in any published, peer-reviewed, medical journal in the U.S.
In fact, the FDA recommends pregnant women increase their seafood consumption to 8 to 12 ounces a week because, on average, pregnant women eat only about 1.89 oz. of seafood. Oh… and there is no suggested FDA limit on seafood consumption for men.
But if Howard is, or might become, pregnant and he’s worried about his seafood intake a new study from the FDA suggests, for instance, he should limit his light tuna consumption to 164 oz. a week, that’s more than 65 tuna sandwiches a week… nine a day…every day.
Perhaps he’d like some salmon. In that case his limit should be 853 oz. a week. That’s 213 servings a week. More than 30 servings of salmon a day.
Howard’s commitment to health is commendable and his confusion, based on erroneous rhetoric, is unfortunate. But it’s a great example of how misinformation can derail even the best of intentions.
Good Housekeeping… but bad reporting
July 2, 2015
Ms. Shanelle Rein-Olowokere
Senior Web Editor
Good Housekeeping Online
Dear Ms. Rein-Olowokere,
I am writing to insist you remove an erroneous story that is currently featured on your website. The story Those Cans of Tuna May Not Actually Contain Any Tuna is clearly based on an erroneous Daily Mail report from 6/30/15 that has since been exposed and corrected.
The original article, parroted by Good Housekeeping, begins by reporting on a study that is from February 2013 – over two years old – using a narrative that misleads readers into thinking it’s a brand new study.
What’s worse, the article completely misreports on the findings from that old study. Your report and headline claim cans of tuna may not actually contain tuna. Here’s the problem; the investigation did not test canned tuna. In fact, the source of the testing, Oceana, says in its own report, “Oceana did not test any canned tuna samples and all samples labeled as ‘white tuna’ were purchased at restaurants or sushi venues.”
So, while canned tuna is never mentioned in the findings of Oceana’s 2013 study, it is the marquee finding in your report.
Please let us know how and when you intend to addresses this clear misreporting by Good Housekeeping.
Vice President, Communications
National Fisheries Institute
cc: Ms. Erin Phraner
Associate Food Editor
Good Housekeeping Online
A Case-Study In Lazy Journalism
An erroneous article about tuna in this week’s Daily Mail is an embarrassing illustration of lazy journalism that goes beyond factual errors and enters the realm of unethical. Author Tom Wyke demonstrates how lazy reporting, paired with zero editorial oversight, can trick readers into viewing an outdated and fundamentally inaccurate story.
How does Mr. Wyke do it?
- Begins by reporting on a study that is from February 2013 – over two years old – using a narrative that misleads readers into thinking it’s a brand new study. To the point that other news outlets, seeing Mr. Wyke’s article, began to incorrectly report on it themselves. After realizing the Daily Mail’s error, those sites have taken down the article. Headlines that suggest Oceana has come out with a new study are completely wrong. The Oceana study Mr. Wyke reports about is nearly two-and-a-half years old.
- Pretties up the old report with new high-res images that take up more space than the content of the article itself.
- Completely misreports on the findings from the old study. The Daily Mail claims that, “When it comes to cans of tuna, Southern California is the worst offender, with 52 per cent of the state’s ‘tuna cans’ not containing tuna at all.” Slight problem here. The study Mr. Wyke is referring to did not test any canned tuna. Woops. Oceana’s own report says, “Oceana did not test any canned tuna samples and all samples labeled as ‘white tuna’ were purchased at restaurants or sushi venues.”
So, while canned tuna is never mentioned in the findings of Oceana’s 2013 study, it is the marquee finding in Daily Mail’s story this week. Keep in mind this is a writer who is reporting on a study that is over two years old without ever disclosing that information to readers. Why let facts and dates get in the way of a quick, easy scare-story?
If the Daily Mail has any commitment to accuracy they will remove this article immediately. Or leave it up and we will continue to point to it in perpetuity for journalism students, so they can see how not to do their future job.
EWG; Peddling Fundamental Inaccuracies with the Best Of ‘em
This week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and its puppet the Mercury Policy Project (MPP) are out with a misguided release that, not surprisingly, flies in the face of the latest science on seafood and mercury as well as… common sense.
Adding to their history of misinformation and hyperbole, the duo claims “American babies are currently at risk of mercury toxicity based on current fish consumption levels.” FDA research finds American mothers currently eat 1.89 ounces of seafood per week when the target consumption number for pregnant women, to gain even the minimum amount of benefits, is 8 to 12 ounces. EWG and MPP know this but persist in pushing a scare story because it furthers their environmental health agenda.
Albacore tuna is a frequent target of their distorted propaganda and once again they’re taking aim at the popular omega 3 powerhouse. This time ranting that pregnant women should “limit their consumption of canned albacore tuna.” What they know and don’t tell the media is that the FDA’s net effects report (p.111); a decade worth of published peer-reviewed science, found (at the most conservative levels) pregnant women could eat up to 56 ounces of albacore tuna a week without concern.
So, published, peer-reviewed science completed over a ten year span finds it’s safe for pregnant women to eat 56 ounces of albacore a week and 164 ounces of light tuna a week, when in reality pregnant women eat barely a fraction of that. It’s almost comical how little they eat compared to those numbers but the real science-based answer to the question how much can I eat or more importantly should I eat does not match their fear-based messaging so they… simply ignore it.
EWG parrot, Michael Bender from MPP, says “pregnant women need sound, science-based advice about the benefits of increased seafood consumption.” Yet ironically he obscures that very science with spin.
What’s more disturbing is that EWG and MPP shamefully try to appear as though they’ve transformed from environmental crusaders into nutrition champions for the poor when they claim underserved populations would be harmed by greater access to seafood. Harmed—yes, harmed. Meanwhile, experts who work to feed these very communities testified before the FDA that, “from a hunger standpoint, there are communities in every state that are in desperate need of food. From a nutritional standpoint, there are communities in every state that are in desperate need of lean protein and omega-3s.”
On Oversimplification and Failure To Communicate
Paul Geenberg tells his readers he’s been trying to come up with a “seafood three-liner that would be as concise, elegant and free from exceptions” as the one writer Michael Pollan came up with when he penned; “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Three Simple Rules for Eating Seafood, Sunday Review 06/14/15.)
The problem is, that while delicious and even romantic, seafood isn’t that simple and that’s why Greenberg admits he hasn’t been, “entirely successful.” While we’re not quite in the Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle territory here, I suspect we’re in the neighborhood but that’s for the food blogs to debate.
It’s agreed, Greenberg hasn’t been entirely successful but perhaps it’s not just the complexity of seafood but the sources and methods he uses that have contributed to this failure. His column is right about a number of things but his zeal to illustrate seafood shortcomings that match his narrative take him on a path that misinforms readers.
He damns shrimp farming in Southeast Asia for causing “damage to coastal mangrove forests.” Shrimp aren’t farmed in mangroves anymore, it’s a charge that’s almost comically antiquated and bemoaning it is met with eye rolls from aquaculture scientists in the know.
He cites a Consumer Reports article when fearmongering about mercury in canned tuna but never mentions the FDA blasted that report over flawed methodology because it “overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.”
The quest is not unique, for years groups have been tried and failed to do what Greenberg attempts here; dumb seafood science down. Wallet cards, red lists and certifications abound but Americans still enjoy the same fish. Perhaps a larger understanding of the importance of seafood in the American diet and its nutritional impact is the place to start. If Americans understood why they should eat more seafood, what and how to eat it might an easier conversation.