NBC News makes healthy eating during pregnancy a lot harder

Stacey Naggiar,
Associate Producer, Health
Health & Medicine


Dear Ms. Naggiar,

I am writing to address fundamental editorial problems with your online article, Pregnant and Poor? Eating Healthy Just Got Harder” and associated segments embedded in the article.

The reason eating seafood during pregnancy just got harder is because Consumers Reports, a consumer electronics magazine, is propagating flawed and reckless nutrition recommendations that fly in the face of more than a decade of seafood science. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has blasted Consumer Reports for its flawed methodology and its limited analysis that focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish.

Its concerning that a venerable outlet like NBC News gives equal editorial weight to an organization whose core competency lies in testing toasters and refrigerators as it does to the FDA, the federal authority on food safety and nutrition.

Both the segment and written article fail to give space to FDAs acting chief scientist Stephen Ostroff, M.D. who, talking about the June 2014 updated seafood advice to pregnant women said, A large percentage of women are simply not eating enough fish, and as a result they are not getting the developmental and health benefits that fish can provide. Studies very consistently demonstrate that among women who consumed more fish during pregnancy or at least the amounts were currently recommending that there were improvements in children.

Yet, the segment and article do feature Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports a title that does not suggest expertise in either nutrition or obstetrics.

The new FDA/EPA advice to pregnant women is based on a 10 year review of 110 independent, 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; in fact Consumer Reports is given more editorial weight than the decade long peer-reviewed investigation by the worlds preeminent food and environmental safety regulators. Such misrepresentation does a huge disservice to your readers.

Accurate scientific context is missing throughout the piece. For example, Consumer Reports Rangan is quite concerned while claiming certain FDA data on light canned tuna found levels of mercury that were twice what the average is. She forgets to add that the FDA limit for mercury in fish is 1.0 ppm (with a 10-fold safety factor built in, making the level of concern 10.0 ppm.) The average mercurylevelfor canned light tuna is 0.1 ppm. The simple math shows Consumer Reports 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.

Suggesting low-income pregnant women avoid canned tuna is wildly irresponsible. The FDAs own calculations (page 113) find pregnant women can eat up to 56 ounces per week of albacore tuna, and 164 ounces per week of light canned tuna. Canned tuna is an affordable and accessible way for women to eat seafood during pregnancy.

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

Lynsee Fowler
Communications Manager
National Fisheries Institute

cc Lisa Tolin
Senior Health Editor