Leading Mercury Experts: Mercury in Fish Harmful - Oceana USA

Leading Mercury Experts: Mercury in Fish Harmful


Press Release Date: December 7, 2005

Location: Washington, DC


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Mercury levels in fish are high enough to pose health risks to moderate and heavy fish eaters, mercury experts said in a report released today.  Commissioned by Oceana and the Mercury Policy Project and written by mercury and environmental health expert Edward Groth, PhD, the report summarizes decades of scientific research and exposes weaknesses in recent reports from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA), which were funded by the tuna industry and other fishing interests.

The report release coincides with an international Seafood and Health Conference in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Fisheries Ministries of Norway, Iceland and Canada.  Dozens of conservation organizations in the U.S. and Europe have registered formal complaints about the conference due to the scant attention to mercury risks in the agenda.

“Several lines of evidence clearly demonstrate that mercury in fish represents a real and significant public health problem,” said Dr. Edward Groth, the report’s author. “Roughly 12 million people who rank in the top 5% for fish consumption are potentially at risk for elevated mercury exposure.”

“Recent news suggesting that FDA/EPA advice could ‘do more harm than good’ missed the most important finding in the HCRA study: it showed that if current FDA/EPA advice were properly communicated and followed, mercury’s detrimental effects would be avoided without any loss of nutritional benefits.”

The Groth report is packed with information, including six key findings:

  • There is enough mercury in certain fish to pose health risks, especially for heavy and moderate fish consumers, women of child-bearing age and children.
  • The EPA definition of “safe” exposure to methyl mercury is not over-protective; more likely, it is not protective enough.
  • Potential health effects associated with mercury, but not considered in the current definition of “safe” exposure, may mean mercury poses wider risks than previously recognized. 
  • Contrary to industry and media messages, fish consumption in the United States has been steadily increasing and is now at an all-time high.
  • A study by the HCRA, whose authors suggest that advisories could be harmful, has serious methodological weaknesses, and its results have been mischaracterized. 
  • People can enjoy the benefits that fish provide and avoid the risks of mercury by choosing low-mercury fish.

“We wanted to show both sides of the picture – the benefits as well as the risks of fish consumption. There is a clear win-win solution, and it’s not as complex as risk assessment. It’s as simple as signs in stores that would allow families to make informed choices when they buy fish,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Senior Scientist for Oceana and Director of the group’s Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination.

“We commissioned this study because the industry is using its considerable resources to mislead the public about the mercury problem in order to sell more fish. This conference is a good example of where the risks of mercury are being given short shrift,” said Michael Bender, Executive Director of the Mercury Policy project, which partnered with Oceana to commission the report.

Oceana’s Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination is a global effort to reduce mercury levels in the environment and to educate the public about the risks of mercury in seafood. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned women and children to avoid swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel, and to scale back on some types of tuna, the public has not been adequately informed. This report summarizes the scientific literature to addresses common questions and make suggestions to help families balance government warnings about mercury with the need to maintain a healthy diet that includes fish.  The report is available at www.oceana.org/mercury.