Harvard Study Refutes Mercury 'Survey'

Fish Consumption Declining Among Women Due to Mercury Warnings
August 29, 2003

A recent Harvard study shows that fish consumption among pregnant women dropped dramatically following warnings about mercury in fish.  In a study published in The Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, conducted by the Harvard Medical School, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, 2235 pregnant women reported eating 1.4 fewer servings of fish per month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) mercury advisory was issued in 2001.   The percentage of women who said they ate more than three servings of fish a week fell from 15 to 11.  The advisory is believed to be effective because pregnant women are more receptive to health advice.  However, the lead author of the study, who is also a woman said in the study this may not be a good thing when it comes to fish, because the benefits of fish for mother and baby are well-established, but the risk of mercury in fish is not.   Dr. David Acheson, Chief Medical Officer with FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, told the Atlanta Journal & Constitution that the agency's new mercury advisory would likely continue to emphasize eating a variety of fish.

"As a practicing pediatrician, I encourage my mothers to follow the FDA guidelines of eating 12 ounces of cooked fish a week because I know how important the Omega 3's are to their health and the health of their babies," stated Dr. Lillian Beard, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and spokesperson for the US Tuna Foundation.

This study refutes a survey by the advocacy groups -- New England Zero Mercury Campaign and the Mercury Policy Project that states that 36% of those surveyed were unaware that the government advises people to limit eating certain fish.  The survey, which was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, does not distinguish between advisories for pregnant women and consumption advice for the general population.   FDA does not limit commercial seafood consumption for the general public.  Further, the statement released by MPP incorrectly states that the FDA's Food Advisory Committee recommended that FDA limit consumption of canned tuna by the sensitive sub-population.   In fact, the FAC requested that FDA review canned tuna consumption in the context of deciding whether specific advice was warranted.

The National Fisheries Institute is a non-profit trade association representing companies involved in all aspects of the fish and seafood industry.