by Craig Weatherby
Two top brain researchers are calling for an increase in the amount of seafood that the U.S. FDA and EPA jointly recommend for young children and pregnant or nursing women.
The urgent request comes from Professors Thomas Brenna of Cornell University and Michael Crawford of London Metropolitan University, who say that advice issued jointly by the FDA and EPA in 2004 is obsolete and may actually harm child development.
Coincidentally, both of these brain-science luminaries attended the London omega-3 conference we attended in June… see “Omega-3 Gurus Savor Vital Choice Salmon.”)
Their plea took the form of a May 2010 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D., backed by signatories to an online petition for interested scientists and physicians.
The pair made this key point: “Current science has advanced to the point where it is no longer consistent with the [agency’s 2004] recommendation to limit consumption of all fish to a maximum of 12 ounces per week for pregnant and lactating women and women who may become pregnant.”
We only sell low-mercury seafood… so why do we care?
Vital Choice sells only clearly safe, low-mercury seafood, so we have little at stake in any debate over the risks and rewards of frequent fish-eating.
But we've stepped into the fray because there's been way too much heat... and not enough light... surrounding the emotionally fraught subject of fish and mercury.
Eco and consumer organizations raise ongoing alarms about mercury in fish—messages tied to their understandable desire to force a reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants—and the big national tuna brands fund most of the rebuttal efforts.
Too often, both sides cherry-pick and mischaracterize the evidence... though eco-groups and consumer advocates have typically done the worst distorting.
We're dismayed when these folks raise wildly exaggerated mercury alarms and fail to mention the well-documented need for healthier protein sources in people's diets: primarily fish, plant foods, and high-omega-3 eggs (plus a bit of grass-fed meat or poultry).
In fact, the evidence shows that virtually all seafood delivers big health rewards at every age... and poses virtually no risks at any age.
For the few exceptions to this rule (four fish that can be exceptionally high in mercury), see the joint EPA-FDA guidance ...and remember that the petition being presented to the FDA seeks to raise the seafood intake limits in that 2004 document.
And as Brenna and Crawford wrote, “There is persuasive new evidence that consumption of more than 12 ounces per week of most marketplace species will actually improve fetal neurodevelopment. This improvement occurs in spite of methyl-mercury in most, if not all fish.”
To increase the petition’s impact on Dr. Hamburg and her advisors—and because their letter begins with “We concerned scientists”—Drs. Brenna and Crawford primarily invited physicians and credentialed scientists to add their names.
Indeed, almost all of the current signatories are either physicians or academic researchers.
Laypeople can always write to Dr. Hamburg at the address shown in the letter we’ve linked to, above.
What are the letter and petition about?
In 2004, the FDA issued advice about fish consumption for pregnant/nursing women and young children, intended to protect the developing nervous systems of fetuses and children from harm from seafood-borne mercury.
However, as Drs. Brenna and Crawford wrote to Commissioner Hamburg, “…a consistent stream of new publications and international scientific evaluations has persuaded us that this advice has become outdated and that it may be inadvertently causing harm, inconsistent with your public health mission.”
The letter closes with a call to FDA to complete its work on a January 2009 draft report, which used a new method for measuring the health effects of seafood consumption.
For more on that 2009 draft report, see “FDA Analysis Supports More Fish for Moms and Kids.”
Meanwhile, EPA-funded research indicates that the apparent safety of eating most any seafood frequently depends on selenium… an essential human nutrient that abounds in virtually all ocean fish (but not all freshwater fish) and neutralizes the toxic potential of methyl-mercury.
To learn about the often-ignored or -overlooked selenium connection to seafood safety, see “Most Fish Rank as Very Safe on New Standard.”
Brenna T, Crawford, M. Open letter to the US FDA Commissioner Urging Action on the 2009 FDA Draft Report. May 26, 2010. Accessed at https://docs.google.com/View?id=df3g99f6_136dq6b84gw
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2008. Draft - An Evaluation of Risks to U.S. Consumers from Methylmercury in Commercial Fish Products, including a quantitative assessment of risk and beneficial health effects from fish. Washington, DC: Food and Drug Administration.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Draft Risk and Benefit Assessment Report: Report of Quantitative Risk and Benefit Assessment of Consumption of Commercial Fish, Focusing on Fetal Neurodevelopmental Effects (Measured by Verbal Development in Children) and on Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in the General Population. January 15, 2009. Accessed at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/Seafood/FoodbornePathogensContaminants/Methylmercury/ucm088794.htm
U.S. Institute of Medicine - Food and Nutrition Board (IOMFNB). Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks. October 13, 2006. Accessed at http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2006/Seafood-Choices-Balancing-Benefits-and-Risks.aspx