A concerned reader’s critique alerted us to a misleading media report; our response explained why the experts’ advice is not biased or unscientific
by Craig Weatherby
We received a critical letter last week, written in response to our coverage of a maternal health panels’ advice that pregnant women eat more fish than the US FDA and EPA recommend.
Seafood Industry Shills? Not so...
These are the relevant portions of an article from Bloomberg News, whose distortions—exacerbated by selective editing on the non-Bloomberg site where Tanya saw excerpts—led Tanya X to write her understandably concerned letter:
“A nonprofit group backed by the seafood industry urged pregnant women and nursing mothers to eat more fish than recommended by U.S. officials concerned that mercury contamination can hurt babies …”
“The report was funded with $74,000 from the National Fisheries Institute, a client of the Burson-Marsteller PR firm.”
Our response to Tanya (at left) explained why this acount paints an egregiously distorted picture.
Instead of the maximum of 12 ounces per week advised by the US agencies, professors of obstetrics and nutrition in the Maternal Nutrition Group recommend that mothers consume at least 12 ounces of seafood per week during pregnancy to ensure optimal brain and eye development in their babies.
(Coincidentally, European experts just released similar recommendations, which echo the MNG’s conclusions and advice to mothers. See “Fish-for-Moms Advice Gains Support”, in this issue of Vital Choices.)
Our reader, Tanya X, kindly allowed us to publish (anonymously) her initial letter, our detailed response, and her reply.
We hope you find the exchange enlightening. To read more on the issue, follow the links we provided her, which go to prior Vital Choices articles containing detailed information on the risks and rewards of seafood to mothers and children … and the rest of us.
Tanya X’s Letter
I recently read the article in your newsletter, "Mothers and Kids Urged to Eat More Fish" about pregnant moms eating more seafood and I almost believed it until I saw the article below. [Note: The article she mentions is reprinted to the right]
It's very disappointing to me that you would promote findings without fully checking your sources or perhaps you did and printed it anyway?
I appreciate the service you provide: availability of fresh seafood shipped to my home, however this promotion of more fish for pregnant women was wrong and dangerous, and you should retract it.
I noticed your sources mentioned National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, the nonprofit group that is backed by the seafood industry. It's very difficult for consumers to make educated choices since the PR industry has no conscience whatsoever and will promote just about anything for money. Now I put you in their company.
Our Response to Tanya’s Letter
Dear Ms. X:
Thank you for writing. Sadly, Bloomberg’s wording is highly misleading. The HMHB is NOT backed or funded by the seafood industry, and existed long before this report, which was compiled by the Maternal Nutrition Group, which consists of 14 independent university and government scientists, including leading NIH researchers.
The National Fisheries Institute (seafood industry lobby) provided $14,000 in funding to cover costs for Maternal Nutrition Group members to travel, so they could meet to discuss the evidence, and $60,000 to help promote the findings.
It is simply not credible to suggest that the amount of industry money involved—a paltry $14,000 to cover expenses (nothing for their valuable, scarce time)—could have swayed these 14 respected professionals, with high-profile reputations to protect, to distort the evidence on such a hot topic.
And none of the voluminous research upon which the MNG’s report is based was industry funded, as noted by Tara Parker-Pope in her “Well” Blog at the The New York Times: “...none of the research cited yesterday in the coalition’s recommendations has been funded by the fish industry.”
The scientific evidence, as presented in this and other reports, does not seem to support your conclusion that “this promotion of more fish for pregnant women was wrong and dangerous.” This new report simply affirms the findings of prior scientific reports that came to similar conclusions (see links below).
If your mind is still open, I urge you to re-read the article section titled “Mercury fears seen as highly exaggerated” and click the links there to our previous articles on mercury.
And it may be educational to read three prior articles, concerning expert conclusions regarding how the rewards of fish to mother and babies outweigh the risks:
Fish Health Rewards Seen Outweighing Risks
Findings Verify Safety and Value of Higher Maternal Fish Intake
Women’s Health Advocates Decry Unintended Effects of Mercury Directives
We could just ignore this issue, since our fish is so low in mercury, but we think it is important to correct the widespread misapprehensions cited by the 14 independent researchers and doctors of the Maternal Nutrition Group.
As we noted in a sidebar you may have missed, The Coalition, founded in 1981, encompasses six mainstream health advocacy and research organizations:
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
- The March of Dimes
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
- The American Nurses Association (ANA)
- The National Congress of Parents Teachers
- The US Public Health Services
The HMHB board is empowered to make recommendations to enhance maternal and child health, which, as we noted, was revealed in the HMHB press release: “Any statement that is supported by the HMHB Board in no way implies that it has been endorsed by our member organizations.”
They did not suggest that mothers should eat high-mercury species, or eat nothing but fish, but the available evidence suggests that with regard to fish and pregnancy, the risk-reward pendulum has swung much too far in the wrong direction.
Tanya’s Response to Our Reply
Thank you for taking the time to give me such a detailed response to my email criticizing the article I read in Vital Choice's newsletter. I stand corrected and apologize for my comments which were harsh. After reading all of the links you provided, I am much more informed on this particular issue.
I don't understand why Bloomberg made such a misleading and accusatory statement; I would never assume that the national media would be on the side of environmentalists.
I am also relieved that I don't have to boycott Vital Choice Seafood because I love the fish as well as berries, marinade and canned seafood products I have purchased in the past.
As I mentioned in the last email, it's tough on consumers to filter through all of the information and misinformation they receive daily and know what is truth and what is spin. I'm glad I took the time to question even though I was mistaken.
- Goldstein A. Moms Should Eat More Fish, Industry-Backed Group Says. Accessed online October 11, 2007 at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=axA77zz5n5sA.