Chicago Tribune Publishes Another Alarmist Mercury in Fish Story

In 2005 environmental reporter Michael Hawthorne published a series of sensationalized stories about mercury in seafood that ran under the shocking headline “The Mercury Menace” and warned of the “Toxic Risk on Your Plate” while insisting that the Government and industry were failing to protect consumers. It would appear that Mr. Hawthorne has decided to go to the scare-story well one more time. In this case he reveals “Women living in mercury’s shadow.”

While once again the alarmist headline may be eye catching the article doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Please note the following issues in relation to this report.

The study reviewed for this report is certainly not the only one on this issue and is far from the definitive piece of research on the matter. The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) called this matter to the reporter’s attention before publication and suggested that he review and included information from a Harvard University study that stands in contrast to what he has reported here. And despite his assertion that “the seafood industry has financed research suggesting that mercury warnings are scaring women away from seafood” the research we provided him was in fact not funded by NFI.

What’s more when looking at the well-documented, proven benefits of fish consumption by pregnant women he writes, “studies have found that regular consumption of mercury-contaminated fish can offset those benefits.” He does not cite what “study” he is referring to. Before publication NFI provided him with examples of 3 non-industry funded studies that examined the benefits of fish consumption by pregnant women and exposed the developmental dangerous children face when faced with an omega 3 deficient diet. Those studies can be found in: The Journal of Pediatrics, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,The Lancet.

NFI wants consumers to have access to accurate and unbiased information when it comes to seafood science and we take our participation in media reports very seriously. We provided this reporter with myriad examples of independent science in order to help him produce the most accurate and balanced piece possible. We are disappointed in the result and suggest that readers view this article with skepticism.

Here’s the email we sent Mr. Hawthorne after we spoke with him but before his story was published:


Thank you for using the National Fisheries Institute as a resource for your latest story.

Please find attached a copy of Dr. Emily Okens study on this exact matter that comes to a different conclusion from the one found in Dr. Kathryn Mahaffeys report. Okens work can also be found here on the EPAs website.

Please have a look at these 3 important studies that show the actual effects of what happens when pregnant women eat fish and the detrimental effects of not eating enough. They were published within the last year in the following journals;

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

The Lancet

Additionally please find attached FDA’s most recent seafood consumption data that we mentioned on the call.

While this is not thestated focus of your story please also find attached an explanation from the FDA about why tuna is mentioned in the 2004 advisory at all.

Additionally, if you plan to quote Jennifer her title is Registered Dietitian and the spelling of her name is as follows Jennifer Wilmes MS, RD.

If you continue to examine the public health aspect of this story please contact additional medical sources who are experts in the specific area of fish consumption by humans and the effects of mercury. The leading independent authorities are:

Dr. Joshua Cohen, Ph.D

Research Associate Professor of Medicine
Center for the Evaluation of Value and
Tufts New England Medical Center

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, MD
Assistant Professor in the Department of
Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Gary Myers, M.D.

Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics
University of Rochester Medical Center
Dr. Emily Oken, M.D.
Professor, Department of Ambulatory Care
and Prevention, Harvard Medical School
Dr. Nicholas Ralston, Ph.D
Selenium and Mercury Researcher
University of North Dakota Energy and
Environmental Research Center
Dr. Eric Rimm, D.Sc.
Professor in the Departments of
Epidemiology and
Harvard School
of Public Health
The National Fisheries Institute wants consumers have access to accurate and unbiased information when it comes to seafood science and we take our participation in media reports very seriously. In addition to speaking with you this afternoon we have provided you with attached files and embedded links to independent science-based sources that include the most accurate and balanced information. We insist upon full, inclusive and factual coverage with regard to stories we choose to participate in.
Gavin Gibbons