Another Study Finds Methylmercury in Popular Fish

Discussion
Sep 16, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A new study by the environmental groups Oceana and the Mercury Policy Project confirms earlier research that swordfish and tuna steaks sold in U.S. grocery stores have varying, sometimes dangerous, levels of mercury in them.

Last year the Food and Drug Administration advised various at-risk groups such as children and women of childbearing age to not eat swordfish and tuna along with other species found to contain mercury such as swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign said, “The results clearly demonstrate the need for signs in our supermarkets to communicate the FDA advice because people are unknowingly purchasing these high mercury fish, and women of childbearing age and children may be eating them in spite of the FDA’s warning. Americans have a right to know what’s in their food, and posting warning signs in grocery stores where these fish are sold is a simple, common-sense solution that fulfills that right.”

“Pregnant women and parents of young children need point-of-sale warnings to make informed choices about the fish they purchase,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. “Based on our test results, a 44-pound child eating six ounces of tuna weekly would be four times over the EPA’s reference dose, and a 120-pound woman eating just six ounces of tuna weekly would be eating one and one-half times EPA’s reference dose.”

The EPA reference dose is an estimate of the amount of methylmercury, the form of mercury found in fish, can be consumed without an appreciable risk to a person’s health over their lifetime. Methylmercury has been found to alter the development of the brain and nervous system in the unborn and young children.

Moderator’s Comment: Should stores post POP signs advising shoppers about methylmercury in certain fish and the risk to children and women of childbearing
age?

George Anderson – Moderator

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12 Comments on "Another Study Finds Methylmercury in Popular Fish"


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Jim Leichenko
Guest
Jim Leichenko
15 years 5 months ago

How about the government does its job and regulates the industries that are polluting the water? It’s incredible we’re debating whether to put up signs and warning labels and not talking about fixing the problem. Mercury is poison. Look it up and see what it does to the human brain.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Warning labels have been about as effective as the levee system in New Orleans. And, that is not intended to be humorous. Consider the effectiveness of the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes.

Regulation of levels should be sufficient. Retailers who feel it necessary as part of their model can use signs and labels to educate. However, as Ryan points out, they won’t be expanding their fish case.

Eva A. May
Guest
Eva A. May
15 years 5 months ago

I believe that most shoppers trust, and should trust, the grocery stores in which they shop frequently. Anything that grocery stores can do to further the trust a consumer can have in them is a good thing. Conversely, if a consumer finds out that a store was selling fish with high levels of mercury knowingly, without disclosing that to the consumers, the consumer can feel betrayed and abandon that store forever.

There are many consumer issues that marketers, retailers or manufacturers believe are of very common knowledge to consumers. But there are always consumers who are unaware of health issues, and can be adversely affected by this unawareness. Stores can do their part to help.

I would also recommend posting any signage in multiple languages if the stores have a high number of shoppers for whom English is not the primary language, as these shoppers frequently are even less aware of potential health issues than English-speaking shoppers.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

And they should advise shoppers of the benefits of a well-rounded diet that includes seafood. And they should disclose that too much sugar can cause diabetes and ruin your teeth. And they should post healthful diet tips throughout the store. And they should point out the reason certain over-the-counter medicines are now behind the counter is because they can be used to make certain illicit drugs. And they should provide shoppers with support information on catastrophe planning. And they should inform shoppers about how to contribute to the Katrina relief fund. Etc.

The more a retailer can become an integral part of a shopper’s life, the more likely that shopper will spend more of his or her money at that store.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Mark has given an excellent Yes, but response. As I understand it from my supermarket fish manager, mercury accumulates in fish and therefore if the fish is small e.g. less than 50lb, it does not contain dangerous levels. Therefore they do not buy anything bigger than that. A simple sign to explain this would be enough. If they are buying bigger fish then they may not be able to test every one and therefore the sign should say that it might contain more mercury than recommended for certain categories of consumer. Then it is up to the shopper to decide and (uh oh, dare I say it?) take personal responsibility. Really not rocket science or the least bit complicated.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
15 years 5 months ago

Another study finds low levels of Mercury in popular fish. Another study finds moderate levels in popular fish. Let’s be realistic, not alarmist. Is there proof of any pregnant women having mal-formed children as a result? Life spans getting shorter if we eat more fish?

Most consumers do not want to know how their food is killed, processed and prepared. They just want to eat what they like, and trust their supplier to make sure it won’t kill them. If consumers really cared about food preparation as a whole, there would be no more Chinese or QSR left. It should be the responsibility of the government to make sure guidelines and standards are being met in this area. Oh wait, I forgot, we have a war to run. Sorry.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Only if they want to quit selling tuna and swordfish.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

I think the warning labels make sense. I’ll add that this is one more area (while Katrina is top-of-mind) in which a person’s socioeconomic status can impact their health and access to healthy options as consumers weigh “farm raised” vs. “wild” in price while trying to understand the confusing scientific information regarding risk. The other day, NPR told the story of a guy and his wife who sent cases of canned tuna to the White House in protest. He was fighting mad about mercury levels in canned tuna and the unstated risks to his children. Normally, I’m not a regulation freak, however, every day people need to be made aware of this risk.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

I laughed when I read Ryan’s comment, and he’s right. But if stores truly believe in being the consumer’s advocate, as so many say, they should do this. Ideally, shoppers should trust their stores. I wonder if such role model stores as Wegmans and Whole Foods post this info. Anybody know?

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
15 years 5 months ago

We advocate providing as much information as possible about all products to assist customers in making purchase decisions. However, in a market environment with perishable products and items that turnover daily, providing accurate, laboratory confirmed information does not seem possible. Each fish cannot be separately tested and rated, though maybe in the future RFID chips will enable customers to scan items and get such information. Barring specific government mandates, stores must be guided by their internal ethics and judgments about the accuracy of reports and studies related to products they sell.

For those of you who haven’t owned stores…. this is not an easy issue at all. Customers want fresh swordfish and tuna. If you are buying the best available product for them from reliable sources, what do you do? Disappoint them by discontinuing to sell it, scare them by posting the latest information (maybe unnecessarily, but maybe not), or ignore the issue and put your open relationship with your customers at risk?

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

The right thing to do is to post the warnings and explain what the store is doing about minimizing the risk, based on its inspection and/or testing and sampling policies, if any. The store can suggest and sample alternatives, and make it clear that the problem needs to be addressed by all stores.

Neil Thall
Guest
Neil Thall
15 years 5 months ago

People who do not know that fish has some level of mercury, and that they should be judicious in the quantities they eat, have their heads in the sand and won’t heed warnings in front of their faces either. Just look at the warnings on cigarette packages as an example, and the number of people who ignore these warnings.

In Europe the warnings are even larger and equate smoking directly to death, and still people smoke. Further, if we require warnings on fish, we should put fat/cholesterol warnings on prime meat, tooth decay warnings on high sugar content items, health warnings on margarine, and more. The fact is that health warnings are issued regularly, some valid and some proven later to be invalid, and if a person wants to be informed, he or she can find the information for themselves, easily.

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