Uncharted waters

victoria —  March 23, 2004 — Leave a comment

I usually skim the MSN headlines in the morning. Yesterday there was an article about the FDA’s new recommendations for consumption of fish and shellfish. The news isn’t good and the new guidelines are controversial. A member of the advisory panel has stepped down over the lack of teeth in the warnings regarding tuna. (Also, it is apparently controversial enough that the headline seems to have disappeared from MSN. The above link is to a Canadian TV site.)

The controversy is raging over the level of mercury in albacore tuna, the more expensive, line-caught, dolphin-safe type. The FDA and experts outside the agency have warned children, pregnant or nursing women and women who may become pregnant to avoid consuming shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish because these types of fish consistently test high for methylmercury, the organic form of mercury as it is stored in the fatty tissue of fish. Methymercury is a neurotoxin that greatly interferes with brain development.

The FDA’s new guidelines state that it is safe for women to eat two six-ounce servings of tuna a week and for children to eat one six-ounce serving per week. This level of consumption exposes a 132 pound woman to four times the accepted level of mercury and an 88 pound child to three times the accepted level.

Of, course this is bad news for business. Tunafish sandwiches are a lunchbox and deli counter staple. It comes as no surprise that the government is willing to risk the health of women and children to avoid damaging the bottomlines of big business. And it isn’t just the fisheries that want this news to go away. Fish aren’t born chock full o’mercury.

According to the same University of Florida article cited above: “Most mercury pollution comes from the burning of fossil fuels in the coal fired power plants, disposal of mercury containing products in incinerators and landfills, mineral mining operations, industrial uses like chlorine production, and releases from dental offices.” Heavy industry is the source of this problem and until regulations on mercury emissions are tightened and enforced more and more types of fish are going to be off the menu. Further from the U of FL article:

“Mercury levels in the environment have increased in the past century as a result of human activities and are reaching threshold levels that threaten human health and environmental security, as well as the future of the global fishing industry. Since 1996, fish has surpassed beef and poultry as the main common source of protein for billions of people in the world.”

There is some good news. Chefs and others in the food industry are taking a stand on the pollution and overfishing that are decimating the quality and sustainablity of fish and shellfish. See this press release at Saute Wednesday and this article in the San Francisco Gate about measures being taken to protect this food source. I also encourage you to write to your government representatives regarding the current American administration’s gutting of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and demand that your legislators put the health and safety of humans above the profits of corporations.



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