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News Line: FDA wants mercury advisory amended

NFI urges open review of scientific evidence

- James Wright
January 01, 2009

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to amend the federal government's advisory that women and children limit their fish consumption because the health benefits outweigh any risks, even if the species contains mercury.

According to a Washington Post report, the FDA sent a draft report urging a reverse of current policy to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper.

The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 issued a joint advisory urging a target group - women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children - to avoid eating swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark and limit their consumption of canned white, or albacore, tuna because of the presence of methylmercury, a naturally occurring neurotoxin. Mercury can cause neurological damage and delay cognitive development in fetuses and infants; adults are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The report argues that nutrients in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals, could boost a child's IQ by three points. The greatest benefits, the FDA report said, would come from eating more than 12 ounces of fish a week, which is the current limit advised for the target group.

The Post reported that the FDA recommendations have alarmed scientists at the EPA, who in internal memos criticized them as "scientifically flawed and inadequate" and said they fell short of the "scientific rigor routinely demonstrated by EPA."

The National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., is urging the government to issue a new advisory based on more current scientific evidence that shows seafood's healthful benefits outweigh any risks from trace amounts of mercury in fish.

"This is an important and positive first step toward recognizing nearly five years worth of science that shows the powerful health benefits of seafood," says NFI President John Connelly. "Everyone involved in this issue should support a full and public evaluation of the science." - J.W.


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