Mercury in Fish: The Washington Post Recycles Bad Seafood Advice

In a reprinted piece presented as advice to confused consumers looking for healthy seafood options, (“Eat more seafood for your health, right? Actually, it’s not that simple”, May 20) Keri Szejda in fact parrots some of the most common misconceptions about omega 3’s, mercury in fish, and sustainability leaving readers more confused than informed. Let’s examine some of her claims.

Omega 3 fatty acids an essential part of a healthy diet

On omega 3 variability from fish to fish: Szejda correctly notes that omega 3 fatty acids are an essential part of a healthy diet, but her summary dismissal of tuna (“an ok source, but it’s a mixed bag”) is at odds with the conclusions of groups like the American Heart Association. It also ignores other factors salient to real Americans trying to make good choices in the supermarket, including canned tuna’s widespread availability, versatility, and affordability versus other options.

Mercury in fish doesn’t have to be scary

On government advice about mercury in fish  consumption: Szejda’s recap of the details around FDA advice on seafood consumption fails to provide readers with the most important piece of big-picture context: there has never been a case of mercury poisoning as the result of the normal consumption of commercial seafood found in any peer-reviewed medical journal in the U.S. The scientific consensus points towards overwhelming evidence that increasing the amount of fish Americans eat would lead to better overall health.

The sin of Omission

Szejda’s omission here is not harmless, and misleads readers in potentially serious ways. A long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs. Those children missed out on key nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids – which every major health organization says are essential for healthy brain development.

Sustainable tuna

On fishing methods and sustainable tuna: Departing from the scientific consensus, Szejda parrots the claims of irresponsible activists, which have no basis in empirical reality. The truth is that the fishing methods preferred by these groups would require vastly more fishing vessels emitting far more carbon to meet current global demand for tuna. And that’s according to an independent study from researchers at the University of California. Not only are these methods environmentally unsound, they’re economically inefficient, and would likely lead to dramatic price increases in a seafood staple for millions of Americans.

Unnecessarily complicating a critical public health mission

Szejda may have undertaken this piece with the best of intentions, but it nevertheless does a disservice to the readers she’s trying to help, and further complicates the critical public health mission; stemming the dangerous decline in Americans’ seafood consumption, which peer-reviewed research shows is contributing to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year.