It’s time for TIME magazine to get it right about tuna

March 27, 2015

Meredith Long

Mandy Oaklander
Author of tuna story/health editor

Nancy Gibbs
Managing Editor – TIME

Edward Felsenthal
Managing editor of

Andrea Dorfman
Senior Editor, Environment/Science



The recent article Should I Eat Canned Tuna? (Mandy Oaklander 3/26/15) contains a number of extraordinary flaws and omissions that not only do your readers a disservice, but put their health at risk. Given the extreme nature of the errors, the piece should be pulled entirely before it does more damage.

The trouble starts before the first line, in the subhead 3/5 experts say yes. A sample size of five is laughable in any publication especially one a lauded as Time.

Oaklander positions this 3/5 number as reflective of the views of the broader scientific community. In fact the consensus of the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and myriad peer-reviewed papers is that the net health benefits of eating seafood including, specifically, canned tuna far outweigh any hypothetical risks.

Likewise, Michael Gochfelds claim that pregnant women should avoid canned tuna is at odds with both the scientific consensus and the FDA, which is actively encouraging pregnant women to eat more fish than they currently are to improve their childrens eye and brain development. The truth is that women are eating dangerously little seafood, and their consumption has declined precipitously in large part because of baseless articles like Oaklanders.

Times failure to rely on the latest published peer-reviewed science on this issue is embarrassing. In June of 2014 the FDA released a peer-reviewed study that included more than a decade of science: A Quantitative Assessment Of The Net Effects On Fetal Neurodevelopment From Eating Commercial Fish. On page 111 of this extensive research tome the FDA concludes it is safe for the most sensitive of sensitive sub populations, pregnant women, to eat 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna per week and 164 ounces of canned light tuna per week.

How can you allow a reporter to simply ignore independent, ground truth conclusions and literally decades worth of science in favor of skewed hyperbole that strays from lazy editorial oversight into journalistic malpractice?

This reality is perfectly summarized by Dr. David Katz, whom Oaklander also quotes, saying: all studies comparing the inclusion versus the exclusion of fish show better health associated with the inclusion of fish in the diet. Time could have saved its readers a lot of trouble by merely publishing this quote under the original headline.

Oaklanders piece is also scandalous for the facts it omits, including but not limited to:

  • No peer-reviewed journal has ever reported a case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood.
  • Canned tuna falls far below the FDA limit for mercury in seafood, in most cases its 10 times lower than that level.

Just as disturbing as the omissions above is the timing of it. As she notes, the [FDA] is currently revising its guidelines about pregnancy and fish consumption; they hope to encourage more pregnant woman and children to eat fish for its many nutritional benefits.

This is true. A major impetus for the revision is the fact that the current advice is thought by many to be insufficiently straightforward and clear in endorsing a seafood-rich diet, leaving it vulnerable to distortions like those in Oaklanders story.

Which raises the question: What was the impetus for this story? Who pitched it? Which activist groups were involved? Your readers have a right to know.

Sadly, this isnt the first time weve had to confront Time for reckless and irresponsible reporting on canned tuna. In the last instance, Time editors were compelled to make correction after correction to a fatally flawed story in an attempt to meet even basic journalism standards. But given the pervasive and egregious nature of the errors in Oaklanders story, we must again insist that this piece be removed entirely and an editors note correcting the record run in its place.

Perhaps the note could link to this item Time published earlier this monthnaming tuna one of the 50 healthiest foods in the world. We await your reply.

Thank you,

Brandon Phillips
Sr. Director of Communications
National Fisheries Institute