NFI protest "Errors and Inaccuracy" in New York Times sushi story

National Fisheries Institute says article in New York Times is alarmist, special interest-driven journalism and should be treated with extreme skepticism
January 23, 2008

NFI protest "Errors and Inaccuracy" in New York Times sushi story

The leading advocacy organization for the U.S. seafood industry, the National Fisheries Institute, describes an article in this morning’s New York Times as poorly-sourced and sensational and says reporter Marian Burros presents a distorted report on sushi and seafood that is at odds with widely accepted science.

"The story is unreliable and contradicts broadly-held medical advice that tuna and other kinds of fish are an essential part of a healthy diet. The Times story is alarmist, special interest-driven journalism and should be treated with extreme skepticism", the release said.

NFI will be demanding an explanation from Times editors for how these basic breaches in the newspaper’s own standards could have occurred and will also be requesting a formal correction on specific errors. 

The release goes on to say that among the "egregious errors and omissions" found in Burros’s story:

- There is little if any acknowledgment or explanation of the widely accepted benefits associated with eating seafood. Well researched science-based articles that deal with the mercury issue deserve to include a discussion of the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids. An article that presents a risk-only analysis ignores widely tested and reported health benefits that offset many of the concerns raised.

- The sourcing found throughout the report is almost completely one-sided. Aside from the Environmental Protection Agency and restaurants whose sushi was tested by the Times, the only sources consulted are experts with clear self-interests and or activist groups engaged in both lobbying and fundraising against coal fired power plants, a source of mercury. Examples include:

----Despite the availability of well regarded, independent, objective laboratories Burros chose to have her Sushi samples tested by Dr. Michael Gochfeld. As part of his own work Gochfeld treats patients for issues related to mercury. Because Gochfeld’s research and practice stands to benefit from alarmist stories about mercury he should not be considered an objective clinician in this case.
-Kate Mahaffey from the EPA tells readers that a rise in blood mercury levels in this country “appears” to be related to Americans eating fish that are higher in mercury. This is pure speculation and is in fact refuted by the latest consumption data that shows lower mercury seafood like shrimp, salmon and tilapia are some of the most popular. 
-Environmental Defense is a political activist group with scant expertise in the medical science of food consumption.  Burros omits mention of their fundraising agenda, instead describing them disingenuously as “work[ing]…to improve human health.”  Yet, the “advice” they offer is at odds with what every major medical, health and government agency has publicly recommended. 

-Throughout the article there is a sensational mischaracterization of the RfD (reference dose). Burros suggests that people who eat a certain number of pieces of sushi are at risk of exceeding EPA’s reference dose level. It does not mention that those guidelines are based on consumption over one’s entire lifetime and not merely a certain number of days or weeks.  Nor does it mention the built in ten-fold safety factor.

-In mentioning the levels of mercury found in the samples tested Burros  fails to explain that the FDA’s “Action Level” is a calculated estimate that also includes a ten-fold safety factor.