Proper Perspective on the Latest Mercury Study

A new study focused on climate change, fishing and mercury in cod and bluefin tuna has sparked a bit of hyperbolic reporting that lacks a complete understanding of the findings and often ignores needed perspective.

Not A Study About Humans

First and foremost this is a study about mercury in fish. Not a study about mercury in humans. This is not a consumption study. It contains no empirical findings about human health. It did not study human health.

Meanwhile, the authors are clear that their research is designed to illustrate what they see as global warming impacts on ecosystems and is not designed to have consumers conclude they should, “stop eating seafood, which is very healthy, nutritious food” (Elsie Sunderland, professor of environmental chemistry Harvard University School of Public Health.)

Needed Perspective

Now, let’s include some much needed perspective. Headlines tell readers that the study finds concentrations of mercury in some cod have risen 23%. What’s important to note is the average level of mercury in cod to begin with. The FDA finds the average amount of mercury in cod is 0.111 ppm.  The FDA’s limit for mercury in fish is 1.0ppm and that has a ten-fold safety factor built in. Making the level of concern 10.0ppm.

With this increase some of the cod tested would have a mercury level of 0.136ppm. That’s still more than 7 times lower than the FDA’s limit and 73 times lower than any level of concern.

Science Is Vital But So Is Accurate Reporting

While science is vitally important, how it’s reported on in the media sometimes devalues its conclusions or perhaps purposely skews them for a more click-friendly appeal. Take for instance the finding that there appears to have been a 27% increase in mercury levels found in bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine, over a 30-year period. Scientifically, that’s interesting. But nutritionally that has little to no impact whatsoever because per capita American’s eat about the weight of a few paper clips worth of bluefin tuna each year.

The conclusions of this study are not about human health and mercury consumption and it should not be reported on that way.