Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New Crisis For A New Generation?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are at odds with a long-standing policy of the US government.

Despite the fact that the US government has an advisory on the level of fish consumption considered to be safe due to escalating mercury in the flesh, the FDA is petitioning the government to amend the amount considered safe upwards. The FDA says that, in their opinion, the benefits of seafood outweigh the health risks. They also say most people would see such significant health improvements it would make eating fish worthwhile despite the mercury.

At the present time, the government’s policy is that certain groups (deemed to be more vulnerable) – women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and children – are more easily harmed by the mercury in fish and should limit their consumption. If the White House approves this new stance by the Food and Drug Administration, they would be, in effect, totally reversing a policy they have supported for decades.

Alarmed scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have criticized the FDA’s recommendations in internal memos as "scientifically flawed and inadequate" and said they fell short of the "scientific rigor routinely demonstrated by EPA."

The FDA sent its draft report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, to the White House Office of Management and Budget as part of the FDA's effort to update the existing health advisory. The report argued that nutrients in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals could boost a child's IQ by three points.

The following type of synchronicity has always bothered me – it seems to smack of hidden agendas.

The FDA report had determined that the greatest benefits from eating fish are derived when eating more than **gasp** 12 ounces a week. Coincidentally, this just happens to be the current cut-off limit advised for pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children.

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon declined to discuss the draft report. "As a science-based regulatory agency we periodically and routinely review and analyze scientific evidence about health effects of FDA-regulated products," he wrote in an e-mail. "We do not comment on draft reports that are undergoing internal review." (I always did enjoy a good soft shoe shuffle.)

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said, "EPA is working closely with other agencies in the scientific review of this report to better understand the risks and benefits of fish consumption."

The FDA and EPA both are responsible for protecting the public from mercury contamination in fish. The EP handles recreationally-caught fish with the FDA deals with seafood sold in markets and restaurants. The states rely on these agencies issuing their own advisories in a truthful and timely manner.

It was just four years ago in 2004, that these two agencies issued their first joint advisory. They suggested that women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children stop eating shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel. It was at this time, the government advised limiting consumption of any mercury-contaminated fish.

Mercury is known to damage the neurological development of fetuses and infants. Remember the target group they want the advisory limit raised for: this could affect an entire generation.

It has recently been discovered that mercury may pose an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults.

The EPA and FDA are supposed to work together to regularly review the advisory, make any recommendations needed and make any submissions jointly. However, EPA sources say the FDA proceeded with its proposal alone consulting with EPA only when the document was nearly finished.

"This is an astonishing, irresponsible document," said Richard Wiles, the environmental group's executive director. "It's a commentary on how low FDA has sunk as an agency. It was once a fierce protector of America's health, and now it's nothing more than a patsy for polluters."

Kathryn Mahaffey, who until August was the EPA's top mercury scientist, said the FDA used an "oversimplified approach" that could increase the public's exposure to mercury.

But Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, applauded the FDA's efforts. "This is a science-based approach," he said. "And you start to see a picture emerge that shows the clear benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks of a trace amount of mercury in fish."

1 comment:

kathi said...

On the news last night some well known male celebrity canceled his appearance on a Broadway show, that consequently had to shut down, due to mercury poisoning. His doctor was interviewed, talking about how extraordinarily high his level was, how often he ate fish, and siting that as the cause. Since he's a celeb, that will probably do more to spread the news than anything else.