Consumer Reports Loves a Good Scare Story

NFI has learned that Consumer Reports magazine is preparing to release a “story” that documents its efforts to test mercury in canned tuna. A story the outlet has repeatedly produced over the years:

Dating all the way back to 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blasted the magazine saying its report, “focus(ed) exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish. As a result, the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.”

Despite that admonishment, they’re at it again — taking precious time away from rating vacuum cleaners and air fryers to play an unqualified role in making public health recommendations.

However, here’s the real part of the narrative that will not surprise you. NFI found out Consumer Reports was testing cans of tuna in early January, and we reached out to them to be a resource. Not surprisingly, they didn’t sound thrilled to hear from us.

From the findings, we were privy to, we noted to Consumer Reports that the mercury levels they apparently found do not raise consumption concerns. Additionally, to suggest precautions to consumers based on those results would be hyperbolic and borders on embarrassing, tabloid journalism. 

We pointed out that in the sample of results we saw, it appeared the highest level of mercury found in a “light” can was .58 ppm and the highest level of mercury found in an “albacore” can was .66 ppm. The FDA’s Action Level, or the limit for mercury in fish is 1.0ppm. Neither of these levels begin to even approach this limit and are completely safe to consume.

However, more importantly, we explained to Consumer Reports that to be totally accurate they would need to put these numbers in complete context with the FDA’s own explanation of the 1.0ppm Action Level and then explain the fact that the FDA’s 1.0ppm level includes a 10-fold safety factor:

“FDA’s Action Level of 1.0 ppm for methyl mercury in fish was established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels ten times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.”

— Food and Drug Administration

Cans that include tuna with mercury levels of .58ppm or .66ppm are nowhere near the absolute lowest levels FDA itself associates with “adverse effects.” Any reporting by Consumer Reports that suggests otherwise and does not include a thorough explanation of the FDA’s safety factor would be disingenuous at best and or deceptive at worse.

The report is scheduled to come out tomorrow Thursday, February 9th. Keep in mind, at that point Consumer Reports will have been fully aware of the FDA’s testing metric and threshold for concern for nearly a month. Deceiving readers by omitting accurate and scientific FDA perspective in search of sensational headlines is more than an embarrassing failure of journalistic ethics it is, simply put, wrong.