Confusing, Contradictory Sensation-Seeking. Yup, thats Rodale
Rodale, publisher of Prevention, Mens Health and Womens Health, wants to make it simple for readers:
The news can be confusing and contradictory. … We take the confusion out of understanding your health [and] your environment. And we add a level of common sense and moderation that has been sadly lacking in the current sensation-seeking news landscape.
Yes, health news certainly can be confusing and contradictory when it comes from Rodale. Its seafood articles (here, here and here) are sensationalized, deceptive and sometimes downright wrong. Inflammatory headlines (The Biggest Problem with U.S. Fish) and misleading photos and captions (A moment on your plate a lifetime of insulin shots?) further contribute to Rodales faulty reporting.
It appears editors Emily Main and Leah Zerbe have let their green agendas trump their journalistic duties to convey factual, objective information. Worse, they have refused to correct their errors when we pointed them out. Here are some jaw-dropping examples:
- Tuna poses a mercury threat.
- Its a lose-lose when you put orange roughy on your plate. Its one of the most mercury-packed fish on the market.
- You want to limit lobster meals to fewer than six a month.
- Mercury is building up in some of Americas favorite seafood dishes as ocean pollution reaches unprecedented levels.
- “Freshwater fish make up about half of the fish eaten in the U.S. each year.”
- Mercury contamination can lead to lowered IQ in children, but its also bad for adults.
- “Choosing sustainably caught, contaminant-free fish could help you stave off diabetes, according to a new study in the journal Diabetes Care.”
Clearly, Rodale prefers scaremongering (to attract more readers, undoubtedly) to educating. Which is why well clarify its bungled seafood advice with the facts:
Tuna is safe. The FDA maintains that canned tuna is beneficial and thus pose[s] no reasonable possibility of injury through at least 24.5 ounces per week. It is also notable for the net effects it produces relative to other fish.
All commercial fish, including tuna, contain mercury in at least trace amounts. The vast majority of the methylmercury found in commercial seafood is organic and caused by underwater volcanic activity; it has been this way for millennia. Still, to ensure that American families do not need to be concerned, the FDA enforces a mercury limit of 1.0 parts per million (ppm), which includes a built-in safety factor of 1,000 percent. Canned light tuna, which contains 0.13 ppm, and canned albacore tuna, which contains 0.35 ppm, are on the FDAs list of fish and shellfish low in mercury.
Mercury levels in fish have remained unchanged over the years. According to the FDA, there are no measurable differences over time in mercury concentrations in commercial fish generally, nor does the FDA database on mercury concentrations in commercial fish reveal a trend toward increasing concentrations. In fact, levels of mercury in commercial seafood are just as they were nearly 100 years ago. As expected, there has also been no change in exposures to organic mercury, e.g., methylmercury in pregnant women over a period of time.
The vast majority of wild-caught commercial seafood comes from the ocean. When activist groups raise concerns about fish safety, theyre referring to fish recreationally caught in local rivers and streams which make up less than one percent of the fish and seafood that Americans consume annually not the commercial ocean fish you order in restaurants and buy at supermarkets. More than 86 percent of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported. The seafood that does come from America is primarily from the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and New Englandfisheries that are not primarily fresh water.
Experts recommend that Americans eat more seafood, not less. The USDAs 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) urge the general population to increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
Fish is essential for babies, children, pregnant women and adults. The omega-3s, selenium and vitamins in fish protect against heart disease, dementia and premature death in adults and boost babies eye development and lead to more favorable child development, including higher IQs. Conclusive evidence even shows that not eating enough fish can cause dangerous health consequences.
Eating seafood could save your life. Fish will protect your heart. Researchers at Harvard University found that some 84,000 cardiac-related deaths could be prevented each year with proper servings of fish in the diet. The American Heart Association has also demonstrated that eating two servings of fish a week contributed to a 36 percent reduction in deaths from a sudden heart attack. And a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved that a reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events would occur if people followed a Mediterranean diet, which includes fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.
The new study in Diabetes Care is by no means conclusive. But it did find that that the potential adverse effect of mercury exposure, presumably derived from diet, may be attenuated by other nutrients, in particular [omega-3s] and magnesium. Other evidence points to less risk of diabetes with greater fish consumption.
If you really want to make it simple, heres some sound advice: Eat more fish.
And if you want to add a level of common sense? Avoid Rodales articles.
Wellness Magazines… That Worsen Your Health?
People who buy magazines for tips and information on healthy living are looking for simple, clear, reliable advice to improve their health and wellbeing. Whether theyre reading nutrition tips or lifestyle how-tos, they expect the content to be accurate and current.
So its baffling that many of these publications dont correctly communicate factual information on seafood considered a superfood by the experts especially considering that U.S. government guidelines and scientific research are easily accessible online. Unfortunately, their incorrectly caveated advice and baseless warnings may actually cause their readers to suffer from dangerous health consequences.
Consider some recent examples:
- Prevention Magazine: 3 Surprisingly Unhealthy Seafood Picks. The article claims mercury is building up in some of America’s favorite seafood dishes as ocean pollution reaches unprecedented levels. This is false. Levels of mercury in commercial seafood are miniscule, mostly naturally occurring in ocean fish and just as they were nearly 100 years ago. And all of the top 10 most popular fish consumed in America have little mercury and fall well within FDAs safety threshold.
- Psychology Today: Nutrition Part One: Avoiding Harmful Foods. The author advises everyone to avoid seafood high in mercury, like tuna, marlin, swordfish, and shark. But according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the general population can enjoy all varieties of fish without any restrictions. For pregnant and breastfeeding women and children it is suggested that they restrict their intake of four exotic and rarely eaten fish: tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. As for eating canned tuna, there are no restrictions for the general population and even pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children can eat 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna or 12 ounces of light tuna weekly
- Better Homes and Gardens: 6 of the Healthiest Fish to Eat (And 6 to Avoid). The piece frequently references Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch program, even though the organization is not nutrition- or health-based but solely conservation-focused. Seafood Watchs recommendations are quite restrictive, and if people actually followed them, much of what Americans eat would be off limits. This is problematic because they are already entirely too deficient in seafood. Research from Tulane University and Harvard Medical School shows caveated guidance like that of Seafood Watch is difficult for consumers to follow which results in reduced fish consumption.
Clearly, these kinds of articles arent harmless. Peer-reviewed research shows that risk-centric messaging … result[s] in an overall reduction in the potential health benefits derived from [omega-3] EPA + DHA.As noted by the World Health Organization (WHO)/Food Agriculture Organization (FAO): The real concern about fish is that people arent eating enough of it.
But its not impossible to write accurately about seafood. A Washington Post article, Eat more fish; risks overstated, emphasized that eating seafood was a healthy choice for families despite the presence of naturally occurring mercury in all seafood and exposed eNGOs for not ignoring seafoods essential nutrients in their fear-based, risk messages. . Parade magazine also reported the latest science, noting, omega-3s (in fish) may lower triglyceride levels by as much as 35 percent and that your best bet for DHA and EPA omega-3s is a rich food source like fatty fish.
The best advice on seafood is not complicated at all: Americans eat too little fish for good health and choosing wisely is as easy as eating a variety of choices 2 to 3 times a week. There really is no excuse for getting this simple fact wrong.
Washington Post Misinforms Readers About Seafood (Part II)
So, we noticed some changes in the offending Washington Post report and reached out to the Ombudsman again with some of our on going concerns. Here’s the latest:
November 27, 2012
Dear Mr. Pexton
We continue to watch the evolution of headlines associated with the article we initially brought to your attention under the heading: Eating fish is wise, but its good to know where your seafood comes from. On the reporters WashingtonPost.com page the title became: The pros (mostly) and cons of seafood. Now we see the syndicated version sporting headlines like: Benefits of eating fish outweigh health concerns.
The current headlines, while accurate, are almost a complete 180 degree turn from the articles original theme. The 1,100 word diatribe is replete with reasons for caution and concern but finally reveals in the end that the benefits of seafood outweigh the risks.
While the headlines are now more accurate, the fundamental problems found in the original piece remain. Failing to report on well-documented, substantive science with regard to consuming seafood because it conflicts with a narrative that over emphasizes the risks is a fundamental journalistic failure.
In reiterating the fact that the content of the article blatantly contradicts one the Post published more than seven months ago (Eat More Seafood; Risks Overstated), I again ask that you review the reporting and editorial oversight that accompanied this article.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Director, Media Relations
National Fisheries Institute
Salacious, Scandalous and Sensational vs. Scientific; why man-bites-dog isnt always worth reporting
Scientific studies that are outliers or in the end dont reach a causal conclusion or cant really be practically applied but at least appear to buck current knowledge are often fodder for headlines. When in reality they shouldnt be.
September 5, 3012
Reuters AmericaNews Service/Syndicate
3 Times Square
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Bohan,
Last week, reporter Kerry Grens in her article, Mercury, oils from fish at odds in heart health (08.30.12), wrote about the publication of a research study out of Finland and Sweden. Ms. Grens presents the findings as if they call into question the scientific consensus about the well-documented heart health benefits of eating fish despite trace amounts of mercury commonly found in fish. The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans unequivocally say Moderate, consistent evidence shows that the health benefits from consuming a variety of seafood in the amounts recommended outweigh the health risks associated with methyl mercury, a heavy metal found in seafood in varying levels.
But the authors of the study themselves are careful to say that, only when data was modeled in such a way that mercury levels were very high and omega-3 levels were very low, was there a net negative effect on heart health. Because both S-PUFA and hair-Hg are associated with fish consumption, this is an unusual combination, at least in Western countries, the authors say. Ms. Grens report should have been promoted more as an examination of the theoretical possibility that the mercury and healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fish might somehow be in conflict with each other at certain ratios not seen in the U.S., and not as a conclusion that mercurys deleterious properties had somehow eclipsed the omega 3s .
Many Reuters subscribers, including high profile news outlets, let Reuters editorial judgment stand in place of their own and did not research the origins and or the true conclusion of this study.
Raising the specter of potential risks in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that prove eating a wide variety of fish is essential to optimal health, is a tried and true tactic of todays media; hence the newsroom mantra, if it bleeds, it leads.
However, when it comes to advice about a nutritious food this isnt just a harmless attention-grabbing tactic. The World Health Organization recently urged communicators to not only emphasize the benefits of fish consumption on reducing CHD [mortality rates for heart disease] but speak to the CHD mortality risks of not eating fish for the general adult population. Research from Harvard University concludes that 84,000 cardiac deaths per year could be avoided by eating a variety of seafood 2 3 times a week. The authors of the very study Ms. Grens reported on say Our model indicated that even a small change in fish consumption (ie, by increasing S-PUFA by 1%) would prevent 7% of MIs [heart attacks], despite a small increase in mercury exposure. Confusing people and thus steering them away from seafood has the potential to contribute to an increase in the incidence of heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S.
This study does not change the overwhelming body of science that concludes the benefits outweigh the risks and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Especially when Ms. Grens own report cites the researcher as saying the study, can’t tease out cause and effect. The value of reporting on non-definitive studies should be considered beyond the curiosity effect that a man-bites-dog story generates. After all, the health of the audiences is at stake.
Director of Media Relations
cc Brian Tracey
U.S. Managing Editor
Today Show Reporter Jeff Rossen and Producer Robert Powell Ignore Facts In Story On Safety of Imported Seafood
On this mornings edition of the Today Show, reporter Jeff Rossen and producer Robert Powell appear to have willfully ignored evidence that imported seafood is safe.
Ignoring the Facts
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) provided Rossen and Powell the following resources, weeks before the story aired, in order to help ensure the Today Show had accuracy, balance, objectivity and proper sourcing;
- An analysis of Centers for Disease Control statistics that illustrates fishbe it domestic or importedis (a) among the safest foods Americans eat and (b) not included in any of the major food recalls of the last decade;
- Independent writings from a former USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety in which he clearly states that arguments about the healthfulness of imported seafood stem from trade issuesnot [from] a public health issue;
- A thorough and accurate description of the Food and Drug Administrations Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulatory system;
- Contact information for a leading independent authority on HACCP from Cornell University, who was willing to be interviewed for the story to explain the screening and safety protocols;
Additionally Rossen and Powell;
- Received letters written by two independent domestic seafood organizations that stated, NFIs commitment to food safety based on ground truth science is unmatched in the seafood industry and that NFIs commitment to seafood safety includes domestic products and imported products. This runs totally counter to the impression left by Rossen and Powells piece.
- Insisted they read and reviewed a six page letter (complete with 23 attachments) that explained the genesis of this faux food safety scare being pushed by domestic catfish producers whose goal is to erect barriers to trade through regulation.
- Have based their reporting on an advocacy video produced and promoted by a special interest lobby working to exclude imports from the U.S. market.
Despite being in possession of all of these documents and having access to an independent expert, it is our contention that the reporter and producer willfully neglected the facts in favor of a more sensational and less accurate story, pushed by domestic catfish producers.
The real story behind this story is and has always been domestic catfish farmers trying to keep imported seafood (primarily from Vietnam) out of the market by claiming there is a food safety problem with the competition. Rossen and Powell were educated about the history and origin of this campaign that they apparently became an unwitting promotional vehicle for. They were even provided clips from independent sources that made this point;
- In July 2009 The Wall Street Journal wrote that there have been no reported cases of Vietnamese fish sickening American consumers This is an attempt at protectionism-by-regulation from domestic catfish producers and their supporters in Congress.
- In May 2009 The Journal noted that, this is protectionism at its worst, and that, there are no serious concerns about the safety of Vietnamese fish imports.
Rossen and Powell were made aware of the connection to the anti-competition, special interest agenda of the domestic catfish lobby. Despite being presented with ample evidence documenting the safety of imported seafood, we believe the story they produced demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth.
Rossen only briefly mentions that FDA targets its inspections and attention towards companies or countries that have had problems in the past. Instead he narrowly focuses on FDAs 2% border inspections. Doesnt it make sense to look for misbehaving kids in high school detention? This is what FDAs system does.
Got Embarrassingly Misguided Advice and Rhetoric?
The kids over at GotMercury? have taken their thoroughly middle school science fair like research and crafted some new suggestions for consumers. Are you ready for them?
Dont eat swordfish or tuna.
And whos making this proclamation? Not a doctor or a dietitian but a Campaign Coordinator for the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Ahhhhh, yes. Sea Turtle campaigners always an accurate and trusted source for diet and health advice.
While gold standard, peer reviewed, independent science is saying Americans eat too little seafood and should be encouraged to eat more for better brain development in babies and heart health in adults, extremists at GotMercury? are insisting consumers eat less. While the final report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made up of the countrys top nutrition experts, is saying eating fish can save lives consumption of two servings of seafood per week is associated with reduced cardiac mortality from [coronary heart disease] or sudden death in persons with and without [cardiovascular disease] GotMercury? has a campaign coordinator telling consumers to eat less fish. If this isnt evidence of just how outside the mainstream GotMercury? is then no such evidence exists.
Oh and did you know that the fourth of four simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family is donate to GotMercury.org? Yes, thats right. Protect your familys health by giving money to an organization committed to mobilizing people in local communities around the world to protect marine wildlife and the oceans and inland watersheds that sustain them.
I feel healthier already.
PCRM: Anything But Responsible on Fish and Heart Health
You would think a group that calls itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) would be an outfit that focuses on public health and even perhaps responsible communications about it… but sadly that’s not the case.
PCRM is a group that promotes a vegan diet and campaigns against animal testing. There is nothing wrong with promoting veggies or being compationate, but there is something wrong with parading around as an independent public health advocate while distorting science in order to trick people in to changing their diets in ways that might actually harm them.
The group is currently out promoting a study from the Netherlands that “[does] not support a major role for fish intake in the prevention of heart failure.” With this individual study, PCRM is suggesting that “eating fish does not protect against heart attacks.” This is an absolute distortion.
PCRM has not only cherry picked this study from a large and compelling body of literature on fish and heart health, but it has cherry picked certain portions of the study as part of its warped presentation. For starters, the study did not find a link between eating fish and prevention of, very specifically, heart failure. Nowhere does it suggest a fish rich diet does not have positive impact on the prevention of heart attacks or cardiovascular disease in general.
PCRM also ignores the fact that the results stand in stark contrast to a recent Swedish study published in the European Heart Journal that found eating fish does lower your risk of heart failure by 33 percent.
While more research is needed to clarify the role if fish in prevention of heart failure, “scientists and health authorities are increasingly persuaded that the intake of fish – even in small amounts – will protect against the risk of fatal myocardial infarction,” said Dr. Marianne Geleinjse an investigator from the Dutch study.
An exhaustive review of the science from Harvard Medical School done in 2006 found eating fish reduces risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.
What’s more, you would think with PCRM’s interest in preventing and reversing diabetes, they might have picked up on the fact that the Dutch study did find a “protective effect against heart failure in specific subgroups like diabetics.”
So, instead of desperately grasping for straws to discount seafood as part of a healthful diet, physicians who are actually responsible might consider basing recommendations about what to eat on the wide body of nutrition science, not the one part of one study that appears to suit their animal rights agenda.
The Public Is Seeing Past The Rhetoric
The magazine lauded Publix for “making healthy eating a family affair.” And singled out the work the store has done in reaching out to pregnant moms on nutrition issues. It held out its free FamilyStyle magazine has an effective resource. And mentioned the store’s own brand “GreenWise” as an impressive product line.
Meanwhile Publix routinely receives the highest rating of customer approval of any supermarket in the country.
With happy customers and impressed health experts holding Publix up as a positive example, what are the eco-lobbyists at Oceana and the enviro-extremists at Greenpeace doing? They’re demonstrating how out of touch they are by attacking Publix every chance they get because they disagree with its seafood sourcing practices.
So it would appear that while Oceana and Greenpeace are working hard to further marginalize themselves, Publix is working hard to help families make healthy eating a priority.
Dissecting Jane Hightowers Diagnosis Mercury
Dr. Jane Hightower is a San Francisco physician who has been described in media reports as someone who’s “made something of a cottage industry” out of anecdotally linking various and sometimes vague symptoms of illness to elevated mercury levels, that she suggests come from eating seafood. If you have “intermittent stomach upset,” “headache,” “fatigue,” “trouble concentrating” or “hair loss,” and you visit Dr. Hightower, you inevitably come away with a diagnosis of toxic mercury exposure.
She’s published a new book titled Diagnosis Mercury that stops short of suggesting all the world’s ills are created by mercury, and of course, that fish are the dangerous delivery agents to blame for a proliferation of health problems. Initially, two things are clear from the book; it’s not going to win any literary awards, and the vein of conspiracy that runs through it is in line with exaggeration and paranoia exploited by eco-activists and animal rights extremists for years.
With that in mind, it should be noted that Hightower insists she is an independent voice with no activist agenda. However, in the preface she thanks the Mercury Policy Project, an organization developed by The Tides Center, which describes itself as a “nonprofit fiscal sponsor to forward-thinking activists and organizations.” What’s more, Hightower is currently featured on the website of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “the nation’s most effective environmental action group.” She talks about the need to get the word out about mercury and how, “of course, we need NRDC and others to work with people in the field, and to take it to the masses.” No activist agenda?
You might expect a doctor who claims to be a cutting edge expert on mercury to lead with her best material, grab the readers from page one and suck them into a tale of “money, politics and poison,” but she doesn’t. Instead, she starts by retelling a tired old story from 1970 about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled canned tuna from store shelves (p 1). What she doesn’t tell you on page one is that in the end, less than 23% of the cans tested exceeded the federal mercury limit of 0.5ppm during that recall. And the case has no relevance in 2008 because the updated mercury in seafood limit is 1.0 part per million, meaning that closer to 0% would have exceeded the limit today. The use of this nearly 40-year old scene-setter is commonly found and purposely unexplained by activist media.
Beyond page one, readers find chapters chock full of Hightower’s self-aggrandizement and reliance on media attention rather than professional recognition as a measure of her success. When she’s not name dropping, like suggesting her colleague “was no ordinary clinician,” but rather the dermatologist who had come up with Proactive “for which she was frequently seen in television infomercials,” she’s relaying tales of how one reporter compared her work to “the discovery of AIDS” (p 3, 29).
Hightower goes on ad nauseam about her contact with local media and her preparation for an interview on ABC’s 20/20. At one point she admits telling 20/20 she would not do the interview unless they paid her friend to work on the piece as a field producer (p 23). So, while Hightower stood to gain in the long run from the publicity, her friend stood to gain immediately. Some might call that a conflict of interest or a case of pay-for-play, not quite the journalistic standards you would expect from a venerable news magazine.
Not quite the standards you would expect from a physician either, when she later describes talking reluctant patients in to participating in her self-promotion; “When I sent letters to my patients offering them a chance to give their opinion on the mercury issues on national television it got mixed reviews. Many just did not want to do it” (p 27).
But, undeterred, Hightower convinces reluctant patients to be interviewed. At one point she writes about a patient, who was also a doctor,who during a break in the taping of the interview “said she did not think she should be on the show” because she “felt uncomfortable” (p 32). But like any good doctor who has sworn an oath to, “respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know,” she allows producers to “finally [talk] her into continuing with the interview” (p 32).
Later, she notes that to avoid undue influence while working on the mercury issue she “tried to keep a relatively low profile beyond my hospital” (p 35). Perhaps realizing the ridiculous nature of this comment she follows it up writing, “except for being taped for… 20/20.” To reflect on this for a moment, we have a physician who has decided to take her work directly to the national media rather than first to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, who writes that she was attempting to keep a “low profile.” And she makes no bones about circumventing the traditional science-based medical process for research and evaluation.
Hightower writes, “Medical and scientific journal editors explicitly ask authors not to release data to the press before scientific publication. But when public health was at risk the doctor or the scientist had an obligation to notify the public of a potential hazard. So I decided to make public the mercury levels I was finding in a set of patients” (p 16). Let’s review; because a handful of her patients had elevated mercury levels, Hightower determined that there was evidence of a risk to public health and took it upon herself to inform the masses.
Hightower recalls how her personal public health campaign was underway just, “nine months [after her] first mercury patient… had been identified” (p 24). If you take a look at Dr. Gary Myers’ landmark work on “nutrient and methyl mercury exposure from consuming fish” you will find he has spend twenty years forming his conclusion that the, “beneficial influence of nutrients from fish may counter any adverse effects of MeHg on the developing nervous system.”
Throughout the book, Hightower writes on the fact that her own colleagues express skepticism about her work with one suggesting, “there isn’t much here, and there is not enough cause-and-effect data that is significant” (p 39). She later admits as much in a discussion about her own patient survey. In recalling a conversation with then-EPA official Kathryn Mahaffey, Hightower remembers her saying “just stick to the numbers” because “we know people have symptoms, but this [cause and effect] was harder to prove” (p 84). So, here she is highlighting the fact that her own survey does not succeed in linking elevated mercury levels to the symptoms she claims they cause. Her survey merely concludes that eating fish that contain mercury can raise a patient’s mercury levels.
But the fact that Hightower hasn’t published a single article suggesting an association between eating commercial seafood and experiencing mercury-related symptoms can’t possibly be the source of her colleagues’ skepticism. She conspires that greater forces are at work – the “big business” canned tuna industry (p 96). When a delegate physician with the California Medical Association questions her resolution to place warning labels on canned fish and remove it from federal food programs, Hightower plots he might be a part of the tuna industry (p 95). She deems canned tuna, particularly albacore, a “mercury problem child” and the industry behind it unconcerned with public health (p 96). But she fails to mention that her own data shows this “mercury-laden seafood” to have an average mercury level of 0.2 micrograms/gram. That’s correct – the trace of mercury in canned albacore tuna, by Hightower’s own account, is 400% lower than the FDA limit of 1.0.
Hightower’s fascination and virtual preoccupation with her own perceived fame is omnipresent in the book and serves as a bit of a disconcerting distraction. In page after page and reference after reference she explains how patients contacted her after seeing her on TV. At one point noting that, “I thought I had certainly beamed to another universe when someone said, Did you see Headline News on TV? The ticker tape at the bottom announced your study, and you are in the paper today?'” (p 89).
At one point she writes that by “May of 2003, [she] was receiving many phone calls, emails, and letters from mercury-concerned individuals, the media, nongovernment organizations, physicians, and patients” (p 98, 99). It is becoming apparent that her media involvement is growing her patient base, a base that by her own admission has varied and sometime vague symptoms. Keep in mind these are not cancer patients or diabetes patients who come to her seeking treatment, they are people with generalized maladies that are undiagnosed and inevitably Hightower concludes the illnesses are due, at least in part, to some level of mercury toxicity from eating seafood.
Her diagnostic skills are stretched to the point of incredulity when she examines the case of an 81-year old Cree-Indian who died of “aspiration pneumonia” (caused by food getting it the lungs) (p 121, 122). He was studied as part of Canadian research of native people with health issues suspected to be the result of eating fish from mercury contaminated internal waterways. Hightower, who never met, examined or had any contact whatsoever with said patient suggests that “if the patient’s neurological system had been in tact, perhaps he would have been able to swallow his food without inhaling it, preventing aspiration pneumonia and subsequent death.”
In the absence of evidence of a mercury induced death, Hightower suggests that an 82-year old man who had been diagnosed with a “cardiac murmur,” “atherosclerosis,” “chronic lung disease” and “an enlarged heart” essentially choked on his food because mercury had so damaged his neurological system. Perhaps if he had tripped and fallen and suffered a broken hip, or got in a car wreck perhaps, she too would suggest that it wasn’t the incident that cost him his life, but rather the suspected neurological damage from mercury.
Hightower goes on to falsely claim that court battles resulted in warnings being required in restaurants and grocery stores for methylmercury in tuna. Any warnings that were posted were done so voluntarily pending the outcome of a canned tuna case and were not the result of a court order.
In the realm of her legal arguments Hightower writes that Judge Dondero cited a “fishing industry expert witness, [named] Dr. Louis Sullivan” regarding the unintended adverse health consequences of warnings. Hightower neglects to inform her readers that Dr. Sullivan isn’t just some fishing industry witness, Sullivan is the former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and was Secretary when the FDA implemented new food labeling regulations.
And while we’re talking about witnesses it should be noted that the California Attorney General tried the mercury in tuna case and chose not to use Hightower as a witness at trial or any of her research. Readers might find it curious to note that such a leading expert in diagnosing patients with mercury poising from seafood consumption would not be called or even referred to when the Attorney General in her own state is arguing (and losing) a case that appears to be based on assumptions that mirror her own.
Watch this space.