FDA Studies A Revised Advisory On Mercury In Fish

The issue of mercury levels in fish has spawned litigation, including some controversial decisions about the preemptive effect of FDA policies on the regulation of labels of tuna. Now, the FDA is urging amendment of the 2004 advisory that women and children should limit how much fish they eat, saying that the benefits of seafood outweigh the health risks. Bottom line, people should eat more fish, even if it contains mercury.


Currently, the government suggests that women of childbearing years, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children, can be harmed by the mercury in fish and should limit their consumption. In a draft report, FDA proposes to update the existing health advisory. The report argues that nutrients in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals could boost a child's IQ. The greatest benefits, the FDA report said, would come from eating more than 12 ounces of fish a week, which is the current limit advised for pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children.


The FDA and the EPA both play a role in protecting the public from mercury contamination. The EPA investigates and regulates mercury and other contaminants in recreationally caught fish, while the FDA regulates mercury in seafood sold in markets and restaurants. States rely on the federal agencies in issuing their own advisories.


Not surprisingly, the Environmental Working Group attacked the draft report. But the National Fisheries Institute applauded the FDA's science-based approach, pointing out the amount of research since the advisory was last updated in 2004 suggesting the real risk to women and children is not eating enough seafood. A Harvard University study released in September of 2008 highlighted the benefits of a seafood rich diet. New research published in the Lancet in 2007 found that mothers who ate the most seafood during pregnancy had children with the highest developmental outcomes. A 2006 Institute Of Medicine report encouraged women to include seafood in their diets. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in 2005 wrote that curtailing fish consumption could lead to an increase risk of adverse health outcomes.