Yesterday’s New York Times reports on a new study published in the Lancet, which questions those who advise pregnant women to cut back on fish consumption for fear of poisoning their babies with methylmercury. According to the Times, “the researchers found that the children whose mothers ate less than 12 ounces of seafood a week were about 45 percent more likely to fall into the lowest 25 percent in I.Q.” Says study author Joseph R. Hibbeln of the U.S. Public Health Service, “The risks of methylmercury in seafood, many scientists think, have been radically overestimated in an effort to protect children. … The problem with the formulation of the advisory is that there was no calculation of the benefits of seafood.” The bottom line is that “higher maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy results in children showing better neurological function than children whose mothers eat low amounts or no seafood during pregnancy,” according to the Lancet article.
This comes on the heels of an October 2006 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found more or less the same thing. According to that study, the benefits to both newborn children and to adults of eating fish vastly outweigh any theoretical impacts on health that may result from extant levels of methylmercury. And, Walter Willett, professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Washington Post in August of last year that the benefits of eating seafood “are likely to be at least 100-fold greater than the estimates of harm, which may not exist at all.”
Unfortunately, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post seemed much interested in reporting on these phenomena at the time it may have mattered most, when the Bush Administration was pushing its Clear Skies Initiative, which, despite all its warts, would at least have changed the way mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants were regulated. Back then, the mainstream media couldn’t get enough of stories about how mercury in fish was slowly turning us into a nation of imbeciles — even though the best scientific evidence indicated that was untrue. Still, at least spreading the truth now is better late than never.