Monday, August 14, 2006

Mercury in fish? Don't worry about it.

The Center For Consumer Freedom (an advocacy group funded by the food service industry, but that backs up its statements with solid facts) has just released a large paper called "The Flip Side Of Mercury". Read the executive summary here or read the full paper here.

For those of you who don't want to do either, here are the key points of the paper:

  • It is perfectly safe to eat fish. There has not been a single study that shows any actual danger. Just lots of hype, hand-waving, and misrepresenting of statistics. (There were actually two incidents in Japan - one in the 50's and one in the 60's. Both were the result of industrial accidents, involving mercury levels thousands of times higher than anything normally caught in the ocean.)
  • Most advocacy-studies about mercury in fish use a threshold concentration of 1 part-per-million. This is the FDA's "action level". What they don't tell you is that the FDA defines 10ppm as "the lowest level associated with adverse effects." In other words, the mercury concentration can be 10 times this "action level" before the FDA considers it dangerous.
  • Most fish studied have mercury levels well below the 1.0ppm action level. A few (most notably swordfish) have higher levels, but event the highest concentrations (3.48ppm) are still well below the level that the FDA considers dangerous.
  • Recent studies show that selenium offers protection against methyl mercury. An atom of selenium neutralizes the effect of a molecule of methyl mercury in living organisms (including people.) On a per-molar basis (comparing by counts of atoms/molecules instead of by weight), almost all fish (and absolutely all of those that have significant amounts of mercury) have significantly more selenium than mercury. Some have orders of magnitude more. So the same fish that contains traces of mercury also contains the antidote in abundance. Most activist-published studies choose to ignore this fact.
  • The health benefits of fish (including Omega-3 fatty acids and many other things) far outweigh any theoretical danger from mercury. Activist advisories telling pregnant women to avoid all fish are far more likely to harm than help the unborn.

But don't just take my word for it. Read the paper.

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