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:

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.