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Fish Lobby Responds to Blue Fin Mercury Scare

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The National Fisheries Institute, an advocacy group for the seafood industry, released a statement this week, questioning the accuracy of Marrian Burros article about the high mercury levels in bluefin sushi in various New York restaurants (Burros backed up her own story with a follow up on the Dining section blog). Basically, NFI says, keep on eating the good stuff. It's not surprising that they've taken this position, but here it is:

Errors, Inaccuracy Mar NYT Sushi Story

January 23, 2008 Washington - In a poorly-sourced, sensational article in this morning’s New York Times, 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.

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.

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.

· High Mercury Levels Are Found in Tuna Sushi [NYT]
· National Study Finds High Levels of Mercury in Tuna [NYT]

Update: In Sum: The Week in Blue Fin Tuna [~E~]

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