Are The Fish Really Being Mercury Poisoned?

If you smell something fishy in this latest wave of methyl mercury talk, the reason is that there is something fishy in it — very fishy — and it stinks to high heaven. Don’t be lured in.

The relevant facts are these:

In this country, there hasn’t been a single scientifically documented case of fish-related mercury poisoning.

The only semi-recent medically documented cases come from Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, and that was right after a massive industrial spill of mercury into their fishing waters. Current mercury levels, in fish and in people, do not approach those mid-century Japanese levels. Not remotely.

“The levels of methyl mercury in California fish are much lower than those that occurred in Japan. We are not aware of any cases of overt poisoning in California, nor would we expect them” (Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, 2003, California Office).

“The only clinical reports of mercury poisoning from fish consumption are those from Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. Although a National Academy of Sciences committee reported that 60,000 children in the United States were at risk as a result of prenatal exposure, they failed to provide any justification or explanation for that conclusion” (Doctor Thomas Clarkson, Doctor Gary Myers, and Doctor Laszlo Magos, quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine).

“The general population does not face a significant health risk from methyl mercury” (The World Health Organization).

“There is some junk science at work here. They can say whatever they want [about mercury]; we’ve reviewed the basis for their findings and there isn’t a lot of substance to it” (Dr. Charles Lockwood, chairman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, discussing the federal government’s mercury-in-fish warnings, 2002).

“The mercury content level of most seafood is low and is not a level to cause harm to the health of individuals, even if they [sic] are pregnant” (Health advisory issued by the Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, 2003).

The truth about this whole non-issue is that our government’s so-called mercury-in-fish recommendations are based exclusively on a single study. This was a study in which participants were eating whale meat, not fish meat. Whale meat, as you may or may not know, is not like fish: it’s notoriously contaminated, for one thing, and I’m not just talking about with mercury. Thus, isolating mercury as the culprit has proved virtually impossible. Which is exactly why it was never proven.

A recently wrapped-up 12-year study in the Seychelles Islands concluded that there are “no negative health effects from exposure to mercury through heavy fish consumption.” The Seychelle people eat on average 12 fish meals per week, which is a lot more than the majority of Americans. Mercury levels measure significantly higher among the island natives than they do among Americans. And yet after 12 years — the length of the study — these folks showed no negative health effects; on the contrary, there were measurable health benefits from eating so much fish. Quote:

“In the Seychelles, where the women in our study ate large quantities of fish each week while they were pregnant, the children are healthy. These are the same fish that end up on the dinner table in the United States and around the world” (pediatric neurologist Doctor Gary Myers, quoted in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet).

“From all the reports we had seen about mercury and its impact on development, we thought we would be able to show how bad it was for children. But we didn’t find it at all. Children whose mothers had the highest levels of mercury, did significantly better than children whose moms had low mercury levels” (Professor Dr. Philip Davidson, speaking in 2006 to The Medical Post about his landmark study of heavy fish-eaters in the Seychelles Islands).

In February of 2007, The Lancet also published research showing “a clear health benefit to children whose mothers ate large amounts of fish.”

“Existing evidence suggests that methyl mercury exposure from fish consumption during pregnancy, of the level seen in most parts of the world, does not have measurable cognitive or behavioural [sic] effects in later childhood. For now, there is no reason for pregnant women to reduce fish consumption below current levels, which are probably safe” (Doctor Constantine Lyketsos, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, quoted in the The Lancet, 2003).

In October of 2006, research conducted at Harvard University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated in no uncertain terms the following:

“Health benefits from eating fish [in this country] greatly outweigh the risks, including those from trace amounts of mercury.”

“Mercury is in the ocean. So in theory there is risk associated with fish consumption. But the types of risk are not the frank poisoning events one might picture associated with mercury. We are talking about subtle effects not detectable at the level of the individual. That is because the amount of mercury people are exposed to in the U.S. is not very great” (Doctor Joshua Cohen, Harvard School of Public Health, 2005. Please see also the Time Magazine article).

“People overreact to these things, so you have to be careful. You don’t want large numbers giving up the benefits of fish while you damage the whole fishing sector for no good reason” (Doctor Sandrine Blanchemanche, of the French National Institute for Agronomic Studies, quoted in the Los Angeles Times).

Perhaps most significantly of all: there’s simply no good evidence to suggest the mercury levels in our fish have risen at all. Just the opposite, in fact: recent research from Princeton University, Duke University, and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum have compared ocean fish preserved between 25 and 120 years ago with present-day samplings of these same fish. The unequivocal conclusion:

“Mercury levels in fish either remained the same or declined.”

“Eating lots of ocean fish isn’t much of a hazard compared to missing out on the benefits from not eating fish. A slew of scientific reports have shown that eating fish helps protect against cardiovascular disease and enhances brain development before and after birth. Overstating the almost negligible risk of mercury could adversely affect millions of people who face the risk of heart disease” (Doctor Thomas Clarkson, University of Rochester, Environmental Medicine).

The main thing for you to remember about this current wave of environmental zealotry and all this food quackery is that it’s no new kettle of fish — not at all.

In their own words: “We simply want capitalism to come to an end” (Jonathen Kabat, one of the founders of the so-called Union of Concerned Scientists, a Marxist eco-group).


“There are many organizations out there that value credibility, but I want Greenpeace first and foremost to be a credible threat” (Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).


“The political and economic system that destroys the Earth is the same system that exploits workers” — i.e. capitalism (Sierra Club’s book, Call to Action, Handbook for Ecology, Peace and Justice).


“Nothing less than a change in the political and social system, including revision of the Constitution, is necessary to save the country from destroying the natural environment. Capitalism is the earth’s number one enemy” (Barry Commoner, the Green Party’s first Presidential candidate).


“We reject the idea of private property” (Peter Berle, past-president of the National Audubon Society).


“Free enterprise really means rich people get richer. They have the freedom to exploit and psychologically rape their fellow human beings in the process. Capitalism is destroying the earth” (Helen Caldicott of the Union of Concerned Scientists).

Please note that this ocean-sized campaign entirely ignores present-day life expectancies, which have never been higher, as well as present-day infant mortality rates, which have never been lower. Note also that it ignores about a million other things besides — things which only the industrial society can bring: clean drinking water, for instance; clean, inexpensive, and abundant food at the drop of a hat; plentiful clothing; heat and air-conditioning; homes and shelter; state-of-the-art bicycles, skateboards, snowboards and skis, motorcycles, cars; inexpensive alcohol, coffee, music, movies, books, art; new medicine, and so much more.

Furthermore, from the comfort of all this, environmentalism, a parasite of capitalism, denounces it all while simultaneously reaping its rewards and ignoring the one thing that brought it all about: freedom and free trade.

But when I tell you that these environmental claims are all, without exception, absurdly exaggerated, you need not listen to me; listen, rather, to an esteemed Nobel laureate you’ve perhaps heard of:

“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen.”

Albert Gore, ladies and gentleman, quoted in Grist Magazine.

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