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Big Tuna: New York Times Should Retract Error-Filled Mercury Story; 'Major Blunders' In Sushi Article
January 23, 2008 17:43 EST
NEW YORK, New York -- Today in a New York Times story claiming sushi-grade tuna is "tainted" with "high mercury levels," health reporter Marian Burros omitted critical information about government standards for mercury levels in fish and seriously misinterpreted their meaning. These errors are significant enough, according to the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom, to warrant a complete retraction.
"The Times has published a completely irresponsible piece of 'science' journalism," said Center for Consumer Freedom Research Director David Martosko. "The mistakes are too serious to paper over with a series of quiet corrections. The Times should do the responsible thing and retract the whole article."
"Yellow(fin) journalism like this does a great disservice to ordinary consumers," added Martosko. "Study after study shows that the documented health benefits of eating fish far outweigh any hypothetical risks. I know the Times is losing money and cutting costs, but maybe they shouldn't have cut back on their scientific research budget."
- The Times neglected to inform readers that the Food and Drug
Administration's methylmercury "Action Level" (1.0 part per million)
includes a generous ten-fold safety cushion. FDA has written that the
Action Level "was established to limit consumers' methylmercury
exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated
with adverse effects." In reality, the highest-mercury sample reported
by the Times (1.4 ppm) contains less than one-seventh the amount of
mercury that might be a cause for health concern.
- The Times mistakenly claimed that consumers eating a fixed number of
pieces of sushi tuna will "reach what the Environmental Protection
Agency calls its weekly reference dose." In fact, EPA writes that
"reference doses" are meant to identify levels that are "likely to be
without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime."
By definition, it's not possible for anyone to exceed a reference dose
with a single week's worth of exposure.
- The Times also omitted information about safety margins built into the
EPA's mercury reference dose. Like the FDA's Action Level, that
reference dose incorporates a ten-fold safety factor. In the example of
the highest-mercury sample identified by the Times, a consumer would
actually have to eat 26 pieces per week -- over an entire lifetime --
before accumulating the lowest level of mercury in his or her body
associated with adverse health effects in scientific studies.
- The Times wrote that "mercury enters the environment as an industrial
pollutant." In fact, virtually all the mercury in tuna (an ocean fish)
enters the environment naturally through undersea volcanic activity.
- The Times wrote that "methylmercury [is] the form of mercury found in
fish tied to health problems." In reality, the medical literature
contains no documented cases of mercury toxicity from eating fish in
the United States; the only cases recorded anywhere occurred more than
40 years ago in Japan as the result of an industrial spill.
For reliable (and realistic) information about traces of mercury in fish, visit www.MercuryFacts.org