Eco-Activists Manipulate NYT’s Mark Bittman

In 2008, the New York Times publicized a bogus study from an activist group testing mercury levels in sushi, prompting the papers public editor to admit the article was less balanced than it should have been, and required careful judgment and missed.

Five years later, the New York Times has stepped on the same rake again.

Times food writer Mark Bittman just penned a commentary piece

(Giving up Tuna? Beathing Is Next) that relies almost entirely on misinformation from well-funded activist groups like the Environmental Defense Funds Moms Clean Air Force. The result is a hodgepodge of errors and exaggerations that profoundly misleads readers.

Here are some of the many irresponsible errors and deceptions in Mr. Bittman’s piece:

Mr. Bittman states: If youre like most people (including me, up until a month or two ago), you know that tuna and other top-of-the-food-chain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury and that childbirth-age women and nursing mothers, especially, are warned off these fish.

That is false: The only types of fish the federal government instruct women to completely avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that pregnant women eat at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of seafood every week during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Unborn babies require their mothers to pass along the important nutrients in seafood for optimal brain and eye development.

In fact, research shows that children of women who consume the most omega-3-rich fish while pregnant score the highest on intelligence and motor-skills tests. One study from the National Institutes of Health found children whose mothers eat no fish during pregnancy are 29 percent more likely to have abnormally low IQs. Another study found a link between prenatal mercury exposure and improved intelligence at age 17 — likely because the mere presence of some mercury in a pregnant womans blood signaled she was eating plenty of fish.

Mr. Bittman states: Mercury itself, of course, is bad enough: Its a neurotoxin that attacks brain cells (watch this vivid, slightly retro and certainly scary enough video of how mercury produces brain damage) and, depending on dose, a variety of other symptoms (including, in extreme cases, death). Its worth noting that 200,000 babies are born in the United States each year with mercury levels high enough to cause concern about symptoms from lower I.Q. to reduced hearing, seeing and speech to impaired mobility and more.

What Mr. Bittman failed to mention: There are no cases of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood found in any peer-reviewed published medical journal in this country. Toxic methylmercury exposure is extremely rare. Case studies on such exposures are based on extraordinary circumstances involving widespread, accidental industrial contamination. And, according to the CDC, “finding a measureable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse effect.”

The irrefutable science demonstrates that Americans should be eating more seafood, not less. Regulators note you would have to eat seafood that contains mercury 10 times above the FDAs action level every day for the rest of your life to begin to even approach a level that would cause concern.

The problem with Mr. Bittmans commentary is not only that its erroneous and misleading, its harmful to Americans. Research shows articles like his can cause people to reduce the amount of seafood they eat, or eliminate it altogether. And that has a significant impact on the publics health.

A comprehensive study on seafood consumption, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found “avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess coronary heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children.”

Authorities from across the globe including the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and the Harvard School of Medicine all agree that the predominant risk associated with eating seafood is not eating enough of it. Researchers at Harvard determined low seafood consumption is the second-biggest dietary contributor to preventable death in the U.S. The study found some 84,000 cardiac-related deaths could be prevented each year with a diet rich in seafood.

As Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health concluded: Seafood is likely the single most important food one can consume for good health.

The North American diet already contains the second-lowest percentage of fish in the world 7 percent second only to the Sudan. Commentary like Mr. Bittmans simply makes a bad situation worse.

The New York Times should know better by now.