FDA's Proposed Mercury Fish Advice Based On Flawed Science

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Today, a parent of a mercury-poisoning victim joined a medical doctor and an advocacy group in refuting the FDA's proposal to stop warning pregnant women and children about exposure risks from mercury in fish.

"We've known for years that mercury is toxic to the brain and other organs in varying amounts depending on the individual's status. For FDA to suddenly change the equation to say that benefits outweigh risks is like once again declaring the earth is flat after discovering it was round," concluded Jane M. Hightower, M.D., an internal medicine physician in San Francisco, CA, who published a landmark study that brought the issue of mercury in seafood to national attention. "Simply stated, FDA's proposed recommendation to eat more fish is likely based on flawed science."

In 2004, the FDA joined the EPA in releasing advice to restrict the species and amounts of fish eaten by pregnant women and children due to exposure risks to mercury. On Friday, in a draft report submitted to the White House, the FDA proposed to not only rescind that advice, but recommend that sensitive populations eat more mercury-contaminated fish.

"Talk about getting hooked on fish stories," said Michael Bender, Director of the Mercury Policy Project. "FDA has really gone overboard this time by casting out the science and reeling in the industry 'line' instead," Bender said, referring to an industry report released prior to the FDA report that reached strikingly similar conclusions.


Exposure and toxic effects in adults and children are well-documented. Dr. Hightower's new book, Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics and Poison, catalogues her patients' mercury poisoning case histories.

"Patients in my private medical practice, as well as at other doctor's offices around the country, have been diagnosed with mercury toxicity from eating too much fish. Ignoring the presence of a known neurotoxin in one's diet is simply asking for trouble," said Dr. Hightower.

"To say there's nothing to worry about simply ignores reality," said Stephanie Simmons. "My daughter's reactions to additional mercury in her system from one meal of fish are testimony to that. Before being diagnosed and treated, her symptoms were dramatic, but now, subtler and longer-lasting after-effects still remain."

Simmons's story about her daughter is not an isolated case. Diagnosis of low-dose mercury poisoning from fish consumption is challenging unless physicians know what to look for and order the tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Today, the Mercury Policy Project released an expanded case study, all based on reports of doctors diagnosing patients with mercury toxicity.



From what I've read (and it's a lot) Dr. HIghtower is the one presenting dodgy science, not using controls in her studies and throwing out subjects who didn't conform to her desired results -- the major studies on fish consumption that are SCIENTIFIC, i.e. large populations studied, control groups, peer review etc. were done in the Seychelles and the Avon study in England, among others. They clearly show the benefits of eating fish. FDA standards for fish consumption were set using the Faeroe Island study, a study which was never peer reviewed, and one in which the population did not ingest mercury from fish, but from whale blubber, which has many contaminants in it besides mercury. It was never a relevant study, but politics prevailed over science. All you have to do to see that eating fish isn't harmful to the vast majority of people (some people do have allergies) is look at the Japanese. Their fish consumption is 10 times ours or more, yet they live longer, have a lower infant mortality rate, less heart disease, and their children are certainly smart. All the scare stories about the minute amount of mercury in fish makes no sense in light of the good health of populations where fish consumption is the norm. We don't eat enough fish in this country, and Dr. HIghtower and her ilk are largely to blame.