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U.S. Agencies at Odds Over Consumer Advice On Fish

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, December 15, 2008 8:24 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, EWR, Protecting Your Family, Mercury, Pregnancy, FDA, EPA


IMAGE SOURCE:© Wikimedia Commons/ piece of salmon / author: Dezidor

A long-standing government recommendation that pregnant women and young children should limit their intake of fish to avoid exposure to potentially harmful amounts of mercury is being reconsidered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An intra-agency controversy has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the scientific accuracy of the FDA’s 270-page draft of a study that concluded the health benefits of eating fish outweighs the possibility that dangerous amounts of mercury would be ingested.

“Once a fearsome protector of public health, the FDA is now nothing more than a patsy for polluters,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, in a statement.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), and other advocates put pressure on the FDA and EPA in 2004. As a result, both agencies issued a warning that advised women and young children should limit seafood consumption to no more than 12 ounces a week and albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week.

The warning advised against the consumption of: king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish due to their high mercury levels.

Internal EPA/FDA documents obtained by EWG show agency officials are secretly mounting an eleventh-hour drive to eliminate the 2004 warnings on mercury in fish in the final days of the Bush administration.

The FDA report claims some children and about 85 percent of adults that have heart disease could benefit from increased consumption of all fish, including those that contain high mercury levels.

The FDA document argues that “the net effect on fetal neurodevelopment from consuming fish containing methylmercury is not necessarily adverse and could in fact, have beneficial effects.

The document suggests pregnant women should eat a minimum of 12 ounces of fish per week, a complete reversal from current recommendations.

More information is needed before a comprehensive evaluation of the FDA’s analysis can be completed. Based on the viewed documents so far, some flawed reasoning is obvious. For one, the FDA fails to make a distinction among the various type of fish, ignoring several scientific studies that have found species widely vary in their accumulation of mercury.

Bio-monitoring studies suggest as many as 1 in 6 pregnant American women have excessive mercury concentrations. The placenta carries mercury to the developing fetus, which can cause permanent damage to the developing brain and nervous system.

If women were to follow FDA proposals that suggest consuming more than 2 servings of fish per week, they would have seven times the concentrations of mercury than women who avoid fish consumption. Advising pregnant women to increase the amount of fish they eat would definitely raise the number of pregnancies at risk of mercury poisoning.

The agency should redouble efforts to encourage women to eat a balanced diet rich in low-mercury fish and other safe sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including shrimp, walnuts, margarine and wild salmon. #

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