FDA Rethinking Fish, Mercury AdviceDec 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now saying that the benefits of seafood outweigh its mercury risks, and is urging the government to amend it long-standing advisory that women and children limit fish consumption. Now, the FDA is saying that most people should eat fish regardless of mercury concerns, the Washington Post is reporting. If the FDA’s recommendation is approved by the White House, it would reverse the standing policy that specific groups, namely pregnant and nursing women, women of childbearing age, infants, and children, should limit fish consumption over concerns of health issues linked to mercury ingestion, said the Washington Post.
The FDA’s recent change of heart has alarmed experts and consumer groups, said the Washington Post, specifically scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Officials their criticized the FDA via internal memo saying the recommendations are "scientifically flawed and inadequate" and that the FDA fell short of the "scientific rigor routinely demonstrated by EPA." The Washington Post received a copy of the FDA’s draft report, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the paper noted.
The Washington Post also added that the FDA’s report states that the nutrients in seafood—such as omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, for instance—can increase a child’s IQ scores by three points and that the most benefits would be received from consuming in excess of 12 ounces of fish weekly. The Washington Post noted that 12 ounces weekly is the maximum advised for at-risk populations.
Meanwhile, MarketWatch.com is reporting that the Consumers Union is “deeply disturbed” that the FDA is considering relaxing it current fish-consumption recommendations for so-called “vulnerable” groups, noting that there have been tens of years of science pointing to the neurological and behavioral effects of mercury from food, specifically on the developing nervous systems of fetuses and young children. The Consumers Union points out that it was its analysis of FDA data two years ago that led it to recommend pregnant women avoid tuna.
Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union was also quoted as saying, "Until there is greater scientific understanding of the causes of neurological disorders and diseases including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, we cannot rule out the health effects of exposures to neurotoxins like mercury, especially during critical periods of the neurological system's development and vulnerability to damage that occurs in the womb and into childhood,” said the Consumers Union. The group recommends, instead, lower-mercury rated seafood such as wild salmon, sardines, scallops, or tilapia, adding that it feels the government is acting irresponsibly by “deliberately” failing “to differentiate among better alternatives and” suggesting “that susceptible people should take unnecessary risk.” Rangan added that, "This news, in addition to the recent news about FDA's questionable process of evaluating the risks associated with bisphenol-A, and the agency's handling of the melamine crisis, show the desperate need for a comprehensive overhaul of the agency. The agency continues to falter in its responsibility to protect American consumers,” Consumers Union reported.
Also, reports The Washington Post, Richard Wiles, the Environmental Working Group’s executive director wrote to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, saying, "This is an astonishing, irresponsible document. It's a commentary on how low FDA has sunk as an agency. It was once a fierce protector of America's health, and now it's nothing more than a patsy for polluters." And, Kathryn Mahaffey, a former top mercury scientist at the EPA said the FDA used an "oversimplified approach" that could increase the public's exposure to mercury. Mahaffey left the FDA this August.