FEAR MONGERS VS FISHMONGERS

It shouldn’t be hard to tell a true grassroots organization from an industry-sponsored Astroturf campaign; a real grassroots coalition springs from the fertile soil of citizen activism, whereas if you dig for the origins of an Astroturf group, you’ll find no roots at all—just a plastic mat of fake grass hiding slimy lobbyists intent on manipulating public opinion.

But I confess I’m baffled by the recommendation from the non-profit National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition asserting that pregnant women should eat a minimum of 12 ounces of seafood a week. This advice conflicts with current recommendations from the FDA and the EPA that pregnant women should consume a maximum of 12 ounces of seafood weekly in order to minimize their consumption of methyl mercury.

The experts behind HMHB’s recommendations concluded that insufficient consumption of omega-3 fatty acids--so crucial to fetal brain development--is a bigger problem than methyl mercury:

The recommendations come at a time when the debate about mercury in fish and an FDA/EPA advisory have created confusion for pregnant women, causing a reduction in their fish consumption. This leads to inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids resulting in risks to their health and the health of their children…

…women who want to become pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should eat a minimum of 12 ounces per week of fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, and can do so safely.

HMHB seems to have impeccable credentials as a legit grassroots group, but these findings were funded by a $60,000 grant from a seafood industry group, the National Fisheries Institute, creating what appears to be a blatant conflict of interest.

As Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told NPR on Thursday, "It's very troubling that the National Fisheries Institute is essentially paying for a public health message."

HMHB is not some fly-by-night, hastily assembled front group; founded in 1981, its members include the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But the announcement came as a surprise even to some of HMHB’s own members, as NPR reported:

"I really think that's the wrong recommendation to be making," says pediatrician Frank Greer, chairman of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We really should not be implying that women should be eating more than 12 ounces of seafood."

Christina Pearson, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told NPR “We are members of the coalition, but we were not informed of this announcement in advance, and we do not support it."

The fact is that the fish industry is, indeed, suffering from a pr problem; consumers are so confused about which fish to eat, and how much, that many pregnant women don’t eat enough fish to ensure healthy fetal development.

So, even though I question the National Fisheries Institute’s methods of promoting their products, I support the goal of getting pregnant women—along with the rest of us--to eat more fish. If you have trouble keeping track of which fish is high in omega-3’s and low in mercury, print out a wallet-sized guide from one of these organizations untainted by industry influence:

Oceans Alive

Monterey Bay Aquarium

National Resources Defense Council (pdf)

Purdue University

Thank you!

I was shocked by the recommendation too. I was sure the Center for Consumer Freedom (Richard "Rick" Berman) was behind it and puzzled when it seemed to be legit organizations. However, the more I looked into it the fishier it seemed (sorry for the unintentional pun). If it's about omega 3 fatty oils there are many other ways to consume those and they include vegetarian sources such as flax. Pastured eggs and meats have much more as well than the factory farmed/CAFO versions (great article in Mother Earth News this month). The Fish Pushers really make it seem as if those who don't eat fish for whatever reasons are barely functioning and lucky to even be alive due to deficiencies only fish can provide.

Apparently any organization can be bought these days (Wal-Mart pretty much owns WWF these days). Death, taxes, and greed...