The Tuna Backlash Backlash

Those of us scared silly by the Great New York Times Tuna/Mercury Scare of 2008 can rest a little easier thanks to Jack Shafer, one of the professional skeptics employed over at Slate.

According to Shafer’s efficiently written story, a longitudinal University of Rochester study is required reading for anyone hoping to understand the effects of eating mercury-tainted fish. The study examined the (nominal) impact of mercury-laden fish on residents of the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, where mothers eat an average of 12 servings of fish a week, concluding that not only is tuna probably safe to eat, it’s actually a healthy thing to do. “Go out,” the study seems to say, “and gobble up some tuna. It’s good for you! Mercury be damned!” And who do we have to thank for reporting on this study and writing a restrained and sensible look at the dangers of eating fish? Why, the New York Times. In 2003.

The money graf from Shafer’s piece:

The fish eaten in the Seychelles contains the same amount of mercury found in fish consumed in the United States. No ill effects on the children or mothers have been discovered in the ongoing study, leading the scientists to encourage fish consumption, especially ‘in societies where fish is the primary source of protein.’

Whether due to laziness or some kind of sinister tuna fish–sponsored agenda (“Eat Mor Chikin”), the most recent mercury-scare Times piece completely overlooked the Rochester study. And the study at least casts serious doubts on the danger of modern sushi joints—and may have rendered the whole story moot, if not actually malicious.

Shafer also takes a shot at the Times for running a shotgun blast of tuna scaremongering stories (an editorial, a consumer reaction piece, a column) along with the original “Tuna=death” piece … rather than a skeptical companion piece examining the evidence that maybe eating fish isn’t so bad for you after all.

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