Mercury and you

Wired Magazine has published a contrary article, taking the stand that eating mercury-laden fish is better than not eating fish at all. Color me skeptical.

I have no evidence that the author, Gretchen Cuda, is a paid hack, other than this article, so feel free to make up your own mind based upon evidence on hand. She might just be trapped in the false “Fair and Balanced” dialectic.

Wired News: In Fish Fight, Science Loses Joyce Nettleton, a nutrition scientist, has some contrarian advice for pregnant mothers worried about mercury risks of fish: Not eating fish could be the bigger threat.

One of the main nutrients in fish, an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is essential to fetal brain development, she says. “The public hears about the risk of mercury and they think, 'Why take a chance?' People don't think they could be harming themselves by not eating fish. But I do.”

Fishing industry money and support are feeding a growing challenge to the assumption that a heavy diet of fish can slow and even severely harm the normal development of fetuses and young children. With billions of dollars at stake, observers worry that the debate is fast turning fish-mercury poisoning into the latest political casualty of science, alongside cloning, stem-cell research and teaching creationism in schools.

Here's the first red flag (after the title, that is. How is science losing in the fight to keep mercury out of our bloodstream? Curious choice of phrasing):

Regulators currently seem split on the dangers of mercury in fish.

So, who exactly are these Regulators? Well, one is the World Health Organization who cautions against consuming too much mercury. The other is the notoriously corrupt, inept and business friendly EPA and FDA.

In Ms. Cuda's attempt to be fair and balanced, she writes:

The fishing industry stands to lose a lot economically if fish consumption declines. Coal-fired power plants, the primary source of mercury contamination in fish, wish to avoid regulations that could lead to costly environmental cleanups or measures to reduce mercury emissions.

So fisheries have recruited scientists and authors whose research supports the numerous health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, touting their ability to reduce the incidence of heart disease and stroke, as well as improve memory and brain function in both healthy individuals and Alzheimer's patients.

Nettleton is the author of three books on omega-3 fatty acids, qualifying her as an expert on the subject. At the same time, she has strong ties to the fishing industry. She's a member of the Tuna Nutrition Council and has received funding from pro-fishing organizations including the National Fisheries Institute and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Yes, so writing a couple of propaganda tomes is all it takes to be considered an expert these days. Gee, I wonder if these books have been peer-revieewed? Critiqued as being ghost-written by the fishing industry? If I was a reporter, I might ask these questions.

David Martosko, director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, which runs a website called FishScam, says environmentalists are needlessly scaring women away from fish. “If women are really terrified of eating fish, then that is a terrible outcome. There is real danger of causing harm to your child if you are cutting out fish out of your diet while pregnant.”

Martosko's organization calls itself a “nonprofit coalition dedicated to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices, supported by undisclosed restaurants, food companies and concerned individuals.” The center's nonprofit status means it doesn't have to reveal who gives it money, and news reports have questioned the group's true interests. The Center for Media & Democracy calls the center “a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries.”

oh, and there's this:

A 2001 study conducted in the Seychelles Islands, where most women eat fish twice every day -- more than six times the Environmental Protection Agency's limits -- reported no adverse effects from prenatal methylmercury exposure.

The study's authors, who include Phil Davidson and Dr. Gary Myers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, have been accused of bias because their study was partially funded by interest groups.

In 2004, the Environmental Law Reporter dug up evidence (.pdf) that that the Seychelles study received $591,000 in research funds from the Electric Power Research Institute, the United States Tuna Foundation and the National Fisheries Institute.

Anyway, draw your own conclusions. If you wish to drink a cup of mercury every night before bed, I'm not going to stop you. Just make sure to follow it with a cilantro salad or soup. We still eat fish frequently, albeit not canned tuna, but then we aren't preggers either.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on June 6, 2006 10:02 PM.

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