Reuters Reporting Misses the Mark on Suspicious Mercury & Mislabeling Story

August 28, 2014

Michele Gershberg
Editor, Health & Pharma News


Dear Ms. Gershberg,

I am writing to express great concerns about your online article, Fishery mislabeling could mean more mercury than buyers bargain for.

In the report, Janice Neumann writes that Patagonian Toothfish from two regions studied had averages of 0.35 ppm and 0.89 ppm of mercury respectively. Before that, she notes that FDAs limit for mercury in fish is 1.0 ppm. The demonstrable fact presented here is that Patagonian Toothfish from both regions have mercury levels below FDAs threshold. The speculatory nature of the study Reuters is reporting on turns the actual work into a solution in search of a problem.

Based on the content of this report, weve seen fundamentally inaccurate headlines such as Fox News; Mislabeled fish may expose consumers to high levels of mercury. This does a disservice to readers, scaring them aware from a safe and healthy protein.

The article leaves out fact that the limit for mercury in fish has a built-in 1000% safety factor. Meaning, FDAs action level of 1.0 ppm for mercury in fish was established to limit consumers methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with any adverse effects; 10.0ppm. And again, Patagonian Toothfish from both regions had levels below FDAs legal limit, yet this article serves to scare consumers by leading them to believe Patagonian Toothfish from a certain region, has enough mercury to put them in danger. This is untrue. Regardless of the labeling narrative the fundamental truth is that the levels of mercury found were in no cases high.

Its also important to note this study looked at only 38 samples. That is not a representative sample of the volume of seafood in the value chain at all. Last year, Americans consumed 4.8 billion pounds of seafood. Its irresponsible to extrapolate wide ranging conclusions from a study that looked at 38 fish. . The Food Marketing Institute estimates that there are 37,459 grocery stores in the U.S. This study looked at only 38 samples. It is almost laughable to suggest this sample is representative of Chilean sea bass from the local grocery store.

Ms. Neumann quotes the author of the studys concerns with pregnant women eating Patagonian Toothfish and also quotes an environmental expert who warns against pregnant women poisoning their children. She did not however note that the FDA, in June, came out with a 10 year review of peer-reviewed, published mercury-in-fish science that concluded pregnant women arent eating nearly enough and need to strive for at least 8-12 ounces per week. In none of the 110 studies FDA relied on for its conclusions is Patagonian Toothfish mentioned as a species of concern. Its questionable at best that Ms. Neumann reached out to an environmental health professor instead of doctors and dietitians at the FDA when discussing pregnancy nutrition and health.

We request that, at a minimum, you update this story to include the indisputable facts that were omitted from the current version.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing on you.

Lynsee Fowler
Communications Manager
National Fisheries Institute

cc: Janice Neumann
Patricia Reaney