Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

More on the mercury recommendation

leave a comment »

I blogged earlier about this (apparently infuriating one commenter to that post). Now there’s more, by Marian Burros:

Many health advocates were surprised earlier this month when a children’s health coalition that includes federal agencies and professional medical associations contradicted government warnings about mercury contamination and recommended that women of childbearing age eat more fish.

Since then several coalition members have renounced the findings, some criticizing the coalition’s leadership for taking thousands of dollars from the fishing industry to promote the recommendations. The coalition’s leaders did not present the recommendations to its members before releasing them.

The organization, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, announced on Oct. 4 that women of childbearing age should eat at least 12 ounces of seafood each week, including tuna and mackerel, which can have high levels of mercury.

Since 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have recommended that such women eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week, including no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna, and avoid swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark because they are high in mercury, which most scientists say is harmful to fetuses and young children.

The coalition based its advice on a finding by the Maternal Nutrition Group, made up of physicians, dietitians and nutritionists. It relied on recent research, including a study in the British medical journal Lancet, showing that the benefits for babies of omega-3 fatty acids and other substances in fish outweighed the risks of mercury. Another study showed that fears about mercury had kept some women from eating any fish.

But in an 1,800-word response to its critics, the coalition acknowledged that a member of the Maternal Nutrition Group, Dr. James McGregor, a visiting professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, had gotten the National Fisheries Institute to provide $1,000 honoraria to each of the group’s 14 members, with an extra $500 each to the group’s four executive committee members.

The National Fisheries Institute also gave the coalition $60,000 for its education campaign. The coalition’s leadership said that the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller “facilitated this group sharing its findings” with the coalition and is working to promote the recommendations.

Burson-Marsteller which represents the fisheries institute, had worked for the U.S. Tuna Foundation before it joined with the institute.

Hampton Shaddock, a managing director of Burson-Marsteller, is the vice chairman of the coalition, although he said he recused himself from any discussion by the organization on seafood recommendations.

Both the recommendations and the connection to the fishing industry angered some members of the coalition.

“We are appalled,” said Dr. Frank Greer, chairman of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the coalition. He said his organization does not believe the new advice is backed up by the preponderance of science.

“Plus it’s paid for by the National Fisheries Institute, which is a real conflict of interest,” Dr. Greer said.

Others in the coalition, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the federal Health Resources Services Administration as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the March of Dimes, also disavowed the findings.

“Until we have a solid convincing argument we are not going to change,” said Michele Kling, a spokeswoman for the March of Dimes.

Julie Zawisza, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, said the agency stood by its warnings about seafood high in mercury. “We think we are pretty much aware of everything that is out there in terms of scientific studies and data,” Ms. Zawisza said, “and we haven’t seen any data that we believe would support a change in our current recommendations.”

Dr. Kathryn Mahaffey, a senior scientist with the E.P.A., said the coalition’s recommendation “has created an artificial controversy.”

“I talk to a number of very well educated pregnant women and when they hear these messages they find themselves confused,” Dr. Mahaffey said. “It undermines what regulatory agencies have to say.”

“You can have omega-3’s without having much mercury,” she added, “but you have to make really careful choices and try to follow our guidelines.”

Judy Meehan, executive director of the coalition, said there was nothing wrong with the Burson-Marsteller connection nor with taking money from organizations with a product to sell.

“We receive money for an educational message and we stand behind that message,” Ms. Meehan said. “We saw an important health message that is a priority and thought the latest science should be included.”

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute said there is no conflict of interest. “N.F.I. is proud to have been able to support a continuing discussion of the importance of eating seafood as part of healthy diet during pregnancy,” he said.

This is not the first time the seafood industry has given money to an outside group to talk about the benefits of its products. For example, the tuna foundation gave $45,000 last year to the University of Maryland’s Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy to create the Web site, which disputes government warnings about mercury in seafood.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2007 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Business, Health, Medical

Tagged with ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: