Seafood: 1, Poor Reporting: 0, You’re Missing the Point

If there’s one message to get across to news outlets, like Newsweek and The New York Times, it’s this: you’re missing the point. 

Your recent articles about studies that show mercury levels in seafood have remained the same for the past 30 to 50 years may be accurate but they’re a surface level look. What isn’t reported is that during the past 30 to 50 years, American consumers have not gotten sick because of mercury in seafood. The fish aren’t dying of mercury poisoning— and neither are consumers… isn’t that a good thing? There’s something at play here that reporters are missing or ignoring.  

Americans are simply not exposed to levels of mercury in seafood that warrant concern. Not only is seafood consumption woefully low, but the 10 most popular types of seafood in the United States represent more than 75% of all fish eaten and none of them are considered high in mercury. 

So, why all this theoretical handwringing about mercury levels that haven’t changed for decades? Here’s another unreported fact; there are no cases of mercury toxicity due to the normal consumption of commercial seafood found in published, peer-reviewed journals… in the last 30 or 50 years for that matter. 

Trace amounts of mercury found in commercial fish are by and large naturally occurring. The presence of mercury and the fact that it is naturally occurring was proven in the California courts when America’s canned tuna companies fought against mischaracterizations that canned tuna was polluted by manmade contaminants and required labels to warn consumers. 

The California courts were clear in the original case all the way back in 2006, a verdict upheld on appeal by the California Attorney General in March 2009, that the mercury in canned tuna is naturally occurring and in amounts too small to be of any health consequence. Therefore, it did not meet the standard for labels under that state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65. 

Any media messaging that could turn people away from eating a food they are strongly encouraged to eat more of requires eyebrows to be raised and questions to be asked. 

Medical professionals encourage consumers to eat more, not less, seafood. Not only can it dramatically combat leading causes of death—the Journal of the American Medical Association found low seafood/ omega-3 fats account for 7.8% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes deaths, making it a top five contributor to these preventable conditions—but the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have established that eating seafood during pregnancy contributes to “improved infant health outcomes, such as visual acuity and cognitive development.” 

Let’s face it: seafood is good for you and mercury levels staying the same as they were 50 years ago is not a nutritional concern. The only concern that should be written into the narrative is supported by health professionals: Americans aren’t eating enough seafood.