In a move that Environmental Protection Agency scientists say is flawed, the Food and Drug Administration is pushing for the government to stop advising pregnant women against eating too much fish.
Joint EPA-FDA warnings have been in place since 2004 for several years on certain species, swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel, because predatory fish accumulate high levels of the toxic metal mercury, which rains down primarily from coal-burning power plants, cement kilns and other industry. Women who are pregnant, or nursing, and children under the age of six, are warned against eating those species altogether, and avoiding consuming too much of several other species, including canned tuna.
The EPA, which sets its own warnings for fish caught for sport, and the states have been trying to set new rules that rein in that air pollution, in order to reverse the contamination of an important food source. If exposed in the womb, or early in childhood, children can develop permanent brain damage from ingesting mercury.
But fish also are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, which the FDA argues outweighs the risk of mercury exposure. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be important nutrients for brain health and intelligence, and many developing children suffer from a lack of them, according to some studies.
This debate has been raging in recent years, leaving many mothers and mothers-to-be understandably confused.
EPA scientists, according to the Washington Post, call the FDA's new recommendations "scientifically flawed and inadequate." That concern is expressed at a level of the agency befor it's been signed off at the top levels, where decision-making and guidance from the EPA has been routinely politicized in recent years. If you want a scientific perspective, it may be the most unadulterated assessment we see on this particular issue.
Confused? Try this:
Environmental Defense publishes a Seafood Selector designed to make this choice easier. It identifies which fish have the least contaminants, the most omega-3 fatty acids and those that are fished in a sustainable manner. That last one isn't a matter of personal health, but ocean health, and it ought to be as important for consumers, if you care about ensuring that your child can also enjoy fish in adulthood.
Also see The Daily Green's 7 Safe Seafood Recipes.
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