Syndicated column by physician-author spreads misinformation to millions
by Craig Weatherby
Once again, the news media got it completely, utterly wrong concerning salmon and mercury. What’s worse, this time the misinformation came from a widely read physician-columnist who clearly hadn’t done his research.
Peter Gott, M.D. writes a syndicated health column called “Ask Dr. Gott”. In a recent column, titled "All-fish diet not so healthy," he answered an inquiry from a woman who was worried about her daughter’s diet, which includes, as she described it, “…black coffee for breakfast, a salad for lunch and lots of salmon for dinner.”
Dr. Gott’s chief concern was the unbalanced nature of the daughter’s diet, but he managed to impart serious misinformation about salmon in the course of delivering his otherwise reasonable response.
Here’s what Dr. Gott said that left us tearing our hair out: "Dear Reader: Recent studies have again confirmed that certain fish—notably swordfish and wild salmon—can have high mercury levels and therefore should be consumed sparingly.”
In fact, lab tests conducted by the U.S. government (FDA and EPA) and various academic and independent organizations confirm that wild salmon is consistently low in mercury. To see a chart showing mercury levels in common fish, click here.
Dr. Gott’s egregious error would be bad enough if all it did was harm the livelihoods of struggling fishermen, but salmon is widely accepted as one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which possess potent heart-protective, anti-cancer, obesity-fighting properties, among other health benefits.
Physician, educate thyself… especially if your audience encompasses millions of readers who expect you to possess special expertise!
A frustrating pattern of phony salmon stories
We are dismayed by the frequency with which media outlets disseminate information that can undermine the health and well being of their consumers, and it is doubly dismaying to encounter errors coming from such a widely read physician.
Our readers may recall that we’ve had to debunk three earlier cases of media misinformation:
- First, a writer from “Self” magazine who appeared on NBC-TV’s “Today” in 2003 defamed wild salmon directly and by implication (see “Is Salmon Really Safe?” in our August 22, 2003 issue.)
- Last year, an article by actress Daphne Zuniga in Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine relayed false information that identified salmon as being relatively high in mercury. In fact, wild salmon is exceptionally low in mercury (see Say it Ain’t So, Oprah… ‘Cause it Ain’t!” in our April 8, 2005 issue).
- Most recently, “Alternative Medicine” magazine ran a recommendation to limit salmon consumption because of its PCB content, even though wild salmon contains truly minuscule levels of PCBs (a few parts-per-trillion): concentrations much, much lower than those found in typical farmed salmon (see “Magazine fans erroneous salmon fears” in our June 20, 2005 issue, and a revealing PCB-content comparison chart.)
We hope that the highly positive safety profile of wild salmon will eventually sink in so widely that even deadline-driven writers, editors, and producers will recognize reckless misinformation, even when it’s offered up by under-informed “experts.”
- Gott P. “Salmon, veggie diet is inadvisable”. Accessed online September 18, 2005 at http://www.nwherald.com/StyleSection/gott/292770416508163.php.
- What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online April 5, 2005 at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html
- Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online April 5, 2005 at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html
- Brain Food: What women should know about mercury contamination of fish. Accessed online April 5, 2005 at http://www.ewg.org/reports_content/brainfood/brainfood.pdf
- EWG’s Fish List: What Women Should Know About Mercury In Fish. Accessed online April 5, 2005 at http://www.ewg.org/reports/brainfood/sidebar.html
- Environmental Defense Network. Seafood Selector FAQ. Accessed online September 18, 2005 at http://www.oceansalive.org/eat.cfm?subnav=faqs