Oprah Fish Scare:
Magazine Madly Misled on Mercury in Salmon
admire Oprah Winfrey immensely, so were disheartened to discover that the April
2005 issue of her O magazine ran an article wrongly calling into question
the safety of wild salmon. Many of you have called requesting an explanation so
we thought we'd share with you our letter to the Oprah magazine editor:
Dear Ms. Gross,
I am writing
in response to the April, 2005 article by Daphne Zuniga, titled My Mercury
Poisoning. While well-intentioned, Ms. Zunigas article contained misleading
information. Unfortunately, this error disparages the safety of wild Alaskan salmon,
which in fact is one of the safest, healthiest fish available to consumers.
Fish chart accompanying Ms. Zunigas articlewhich cites Physicians
for Social Responsibility (PSR) as its sourceoffers advice on how often
it is safe to eat various species, based on their average mercury and/or PCB levels.
information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. FDA, and respected
environmental organizations contradicts the charts recommendation to eat
salmon (and sardines) no more than once a week. Its recommendation to strictly
limit consumption of salmonwith no distinction drawn between wild and farmed
fishimplies that all salmon is relatively high in mercury. With regard to
wild salmon, this implication does not match the findings of any credible scientific
source we can find. Further, the footnote on salmon indicates that it is high
in PCBs, when the data show that that characterization applies only to farmed
salmon, as discussed below.
chart accompanying Ms. Zunigas article reflects errors in the Guide
to Healthy Fish chart displayed on the Mercury Action Web site1 operated
by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The PSR chart asserts that it is
not safe to eat more than 1-3 servings per month of fresh-frozen
salmon, and makes no distinction between farmed and wild-caught salmon. (While
all ocean salmonwild or farmedis extremely low in mercury, farmed
salmon is unusually high in other toxins: especially PCBs.)
PSRs charta link to which appears in the Protecting Yourself
section of the Web version of the articleis even more misleading, since
it ranks salmon (generically) as barely better than the most mercury-contaminated
species (e.g., swordfish). This damaging assertion is flat wrong.
anti-salmon implication of the PSRs Guide to Healthy Fish chart, its Mercury
Action Web site offers a link to the US Environmental Protection Agency Web site,
whose advice2 contradicts the PSRs negative assertion: Eat up to 12
ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower
in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp,
canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) seafood advisory3 also lists fresh/frozen
salmon among the species lowest in mercury. In fact, the mean
mercury levels shown for salmon are the lowest in the FDAs lowest
in mercury category, and are matched only by hake and tilapia.
compiled by the three federal agencies that monitor mercury levels in fishEPA,
FDA, and NOAAshow that the average mercury content in salmon is very low.
For example, the average mercury content of tuna steaks is listed as 0.417 parts
per million (PPM), while ocean salmon contains only 0.008 PPM. The combined government
figures show that, on average, mercury levels in salmon are only two percent of
the levels found in tuna steaks. In other words, tuna steaks contain, on average,
50 times more mercury than ocean salmon does. The only exceptions are salmon from
the Great Lakes, which, on average, contain 21 times more mercury than ocean salmon.
federal agencies, the Environmental Working Group (EWG)a leading critic
of weak government efforts to limit mercury pollutionconsiders wild Alaskan
salmon safe to eat on a frequent basis. Based on US government tests, EWG lists
wild Pacific Salmon among the species lowest in mercury5 and says, "The risk
of mercury in salmon appears to be minimal."
while both farmed and wild salmon are relatively low in mercury, nutrition-savvy
physicians like Nicholas Perricone, M.D., Christiane Northrup, M.D., Andrew Weil
M.D., and Stephen Pratt, M.D.all of whom have appeared on Oprahs television
showrecommend wild salmon for the myriad health benefits attributed to its
very high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These well-informed physicians favor
wild salmon over farmed salmon for two reasons:
1. Farmed salmon contains levels of toxic industrial pollutants called PCBs that
are five to 40 times higher than those found in any other commercial protein source.
While credible scientists downplay the risk presented by the levels of PCBs in
farmed salmon, a 2002 study by Canadian scientists reported the sobering fact
that farmed salmon contain significantly higher levels of all the chemical contaminants
found in ocean fish6-8. Accordingly, the non-profit organization Environmental
Defense ranks farmed salmon as less safe than albacore tunaa food relatively
high in mercuryin terms of the amounts considered safe to eat 9. (I should
note that, unlike standard commercial albacore, young, low-weight, troll-caught
Pacific albacore tuna are relatively low in mercury.)
2. While wild salmon and farmed salmon are both rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty
acids, farmed salmon are much higher in total fat. This is because farmed salmon
also contain high levels of heart-unhealthy saturated fat and pro-inflammatory
appreciate Ms. Zunigas effort to warn consumers, especially nursing mothers
and women of child-bearing age, of the dangers of mercury in seafood. But U.S.
health authorities and knowledgeable doctors urge Americans to eat more omega-3
fatty acids, whose benefits to heart health, brain function, and child development
are undisputed. It would be a shame were your readers to avoid one of the healthiest
fish in the seawild salmonbecause of an inadvertent error.
It is also
unfortunate that all who make their living harvesting and marketing wild salmon
should suffer because one of the most widely read, credible magazines in America
was mislead into wrongly disparaging the fruits of their labor. Salmon fisherman
in Alaska risk their lives to harvest one of the healthiest foods left on earth,
and can ill afford unwarranted damage to wild salmon markets already under siege
by nutritionally and environmentally inferior farmed salmon.
behalf of the wild salmon industry and all Oprah readers who look to you for sound
advice with regard to their health and well-being, I respectfully request that
you print a clarification in your next issue, and correct the article on the Oprah.com
Web site. This is what I suggest:
revise the Go Fish chart using information from EWG, FDA, and EPA,
which should lead you to move wild salmon to the Enjoy (up to two servings
a week) category. (In fact, the data suggest that it is safe and smart to
eat wild salmon even more frequently.)
chart listing for salmon under Show Restraint should specify Farmed
salmon, rather than Salmon (especially farmed).
the Protecting Yourself portion of the article, I would remove all
mention of and links to PSR and its Mercury Action Web site, since its information
is inaccurate. Instead, I suggest that you link to the EWG Web site (http://www.ewg.org/reports/brainfood/sidebar.html).
You could also link to the relevant FDA (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html)
and EPA (http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html) Web pages.
There is nothing
more important to health than proper nutrition, so it is disheartening to see
wide dissemination of inaccuracies that wrongly discourage frequent consumption
of a food (wild salmon) whose safety and broad array or health benefits are well
documented in the scientific literature. You can find many links to sound information
about the safety and health benefits of wild salmon on our Web site at http://www.vitalchoice.com/purity.cfm
you for your attention and consideration.
consider organic whole foods from both plant and animal kingdoms
to be a major key to superior health. We also think it's terribly
important to eat fish at least twice a week to get the essential
fatty acids. Here at our house, we only eat wild Alaskan salmon
and other wild seafoods from our friends at Vital Choice. Click
here to visit Vital Choice Seafood.
PSR/ARHP Guide to Healthy Fish. Accessed online April 5, 2005 at http://www.mercuryaction.org/
What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online April
5, 2005 at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html
Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online April 5, 2005
Brain Food: What women should know about mercury contamination of fish. Accessed
online April 5, 2005 at http://www.ewg.org/reports_content/brainfood/brainfood.pdf
EWGs Fish List: What Women Should Know About Mercury In Fish. Accessed online
April 5, 2005 at http://www.ewg.org/reports/brainfood/sidebar.html
Easton MD, Luszniak D, Von der GE. Preliminary examination of contaminant loadings
in farmed salmon, wild salmon and commercial salmon feed. Chemosphere. 2002 Feb;46(7):1053-74.
Jacobs M, Ferrario J, Byrne C. 2002a. Investigation of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins,
dibenzo-p-furans and selected coplanar biphenyls in Scottish farmed Atlantic salmon
(Salmo salar). Chemosphere. 2002 Apr;47(2):183-91.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). 1999. Summary report of contaminant results
in fish feed, fishmeal and fish oil. Accessed online July 21, 2003 at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/anima/feebet/dioxe.shtml.
Consumption Advisories: Fish to Avoid. Accessed online July 21, 2003 at http://www.oceansalive.org/eat.cfm?subnav=healthalerts
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