Despite its long history of actively misinforming readers about seafood and nutrition, the product reviewers at Consumer Reports took another crack at pretending to understand the science. The results are a disaster for public health.
Broadcast news outlets that purport to give health or lifestyle advice have a responsibility to their readers to provide factual, accurate information. At a bare minimum, they should not blindly promote some product or life choice, while disparage alternatives, without covering all the relevant sides of the issue. The editorial team at Forbes and contributor Janet Forgrieve came up short on all scores in a recent piece [Good Catch Touts Tuna That’s Better For the Oceans, Safe For The Office; 2/20].
Forgrieve uncritically accepts the claims made by Good Catch, producers of bean-based products they misleadingly refer to as “seafood”, without giving any space to skeptics. She could have done a simple internet search to find ample information about the well-known health benefits of seafood. Or she could have reached out to us, and we would have provided research on sustainable fishing to refute Good Catch’s unfounded and hyperbolic claims about the “dire situation” in our oceans.
co-founder of Good Catch, further makes the completely unsupported claim that
doctors tell pregnant women not to eat tuna. This is dangerous rhetoric that
contributes to a national public health crisis. Pregnant women need to eat more
seafood than the 1.8 ounces per week they currently consume on average, and
canned or pouched tuna is a nutritious and affordable option.
Mercury content standards for consumer products are already extremely rigorous. The FDA’s recommended limit for mercury in seafood has a ten-fold safety-factor built in. And the FDA’s Net Effects report, which is based on 100 peer-reviewed studies, found that even a pregnant woman could eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, without worry.
their readers an update. They could start by including facts that Forgrieve
omitted from her piece:
In a world saturated with conflicting and confusing dietary advice there is remarkable expert consensus on one subject: Americans need to eat more seafood. Period.
So when click-bait articles pegged to the latest food fad or fringe diet peddle in dusty and debunked clichés about fish and mercury, the result is not just that readers are misled. Their health is actively endangered.
Reader’s Digest’s recent post [The Scary Reason You Shouldn’t Eat the Same Foods Every Day, by Emily Shiffer, 1/23/19] poses just such a threat. Ms. Shiffer tells readers it’s “scary” to eat too much of the same foods, and singles out tuna as specifically dangerous due to concerns over mercury. But there is no reason to limit tuna consumption due to mercuy, and indeed the only piece she cites in support, written by one of her own colleagues, doesn’t even mention tuna.
The truth is that there has never been a case of mercury poisoning from normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American medical journal. That’s right, zero cases.
Indeed, the FDA’s own analysis of more than 100 scientific studies on seafood concludes that the average person could eat canned tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week without worry.
But many Americans aren’t getting that message because of click-bait articles like Ms. Shiffers. The FDA warnsthat most Americans are eating dangerously low amounts of seafood, a deficiency that contributes to nearly 84,000 preventable deaths each year. Another long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs.
Other agencies agree that more seafood consumption is needed. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for example, urge consumers to eat more fish and recommend tuna as a healthy option. The USDA too recommends that Americans eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood per week. That’s because seafood is rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3s called EPA & DHA.
In the face of such overwhelming scientific evidence, unsupported and unsourced attacks on tuna are especially galling. Reader’s Digest owes its readers more, and we call on them to update their story with the real facts about tuna.
Recently Discover Magazine published dangerously misleading myths about mercury in tuna, so we wrote a letter of concern to the editors. After receiving no response from the editorial team, we also posted that letter as a comment under the article to give readers all the facts. To our surprise, it was deleted, multiple times, without explanation.
As a magazine devoted to report “developments in science, medicine, technology, and the world around us” it is counterintuitive to us that Discover Magazine would inhibit our ability to present readers with a factually informed perspective, rooted in peer-reviewed research from the FDA, the USDA, and the American Heart Association.
Here’s the original letter, and a follow-up we wrote asking for an explanation of the deletions.
Despite a rare and stinging rebuke issued by the FDA, activist magazine Consumer Reports is again pushing reckless misinformation about seafood consumption. Directly contradicting the public health guidance from federal agencies and every leading medical institution, the magazine claims that “Consumer Reports analyses of mercury levels in tuna suggest that pregnant women shouldn’t eat it at all.”
Yet in response to their initial canned tuna “report,” the FDA released a statement, “[T]he methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.” Consumer Reports false claims that pregnant women should completely avoid canned tuna, while other consumers should stick to light canned tuna, are based solely on their own irresponsible and makeshift study.
Leading health officials have long understood and advised that canned tuna is a nutritious food that provides many health benefits. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge consumers to eat more fish and recommend tuna as a healthy option. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also suggests that Americans eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood per week. That’s because seafood is rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3s called EPA and DHA.
Their statement is especially misleading because the average can of light or albacore tuna has mercury levels of 0.1 and 0.3 parts per million, substantially below the FDA’s safety level of 1.0ppm. That means that, according to the FDA’s Net Effects Report, which encompassed over 100 peer-reviewed studies, the average person can safely eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.
Between the FDA’s admonishment and our constant reminders that Consumer Reports is misleading the public, which we’ve done here, here, here, and here, the magazine has presented no substantive response. Most Americans are eating dangerously low amounts of seafood, a deficiency that contributes to nearly 84,000 preventable deaths each year. Yet Consumer Reports continues to scare consumers away from one of the most nutritious and easily accessible seafood options. Their utter disregard for the accepted and prevailing public health consensus on the safety of tuna consumption is disgraceful.
The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), in collaboration with Greenpeace, Birdlife International, and The Nature Conservancy, has released a report – Best Practices for Reducing Bycatch in Longline Tuna Fisheries – focused on minimizing bycatch in longline tuna fisheries. Perhaps the best thing the report does is draw readers’ attention to the important work already being done by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to mitigate bycatch. But where the report veers into editorializing it distorts reality and misleads readers.
Take for instance a comment about the lack of “political will to achieve broad industry uptake of best practices.” While we can safely guess which of the collaborators inserted this language, it directly contradicts the report’s commendation of ISSF, which has for years been working with the industry to implement mitigation best practices, even as Greenpeace has refused a seat at the table.
The report also distorts bycatch statistics in crucial ways. For instance, the standard definition of bycatch includes species that commonly end up in markets, including “undersized tuna, marlin and swordfish” (p. 8). But the report focuses instead on wildlife unrelated to fisheries, such as birds. This may stir the emotions of some of the collaborator’s donors, but it obscures the fact that bycatch rates overall are at historic lows, thanks in large part to ISSF and industry efforts.
This context is important because, as is noted in the report some bycatch mitigation tactics meant to help one species could detrimentally impact another, and sustainability experts must weigh options to avoid doing more harm more than good.
Meanwhile, buried in the report, and left out of the summary and press release, is a citation from ISSF noting that longline tuna fisheries only account for about twelve percent of the world tuna supply.
That’s right. This 26-page report focuses only on a small fraction of the industry, and has nothing to say about skipjack, which comprises the majority of the canned tuna market. Perhaps the certain authors avoided that conversation because world tuna stocks, including skipjack levels, were deemed healthy by top researchers.
The work of fisheries experts, scientists, and industry stakeholders to ensure the continued sustainability and health of global tuna stocks is ongoing, and to the extent that this report highlights and directs interested parties to that work, it’s welcome. But for collaborators with a history of hyperbole and fundraising attached to their naysaying we’ll be watching how you use… or misuse this report.
The “Safe Catch” tuna brand has stoked unwarranted consumer fear for years by pitching their product as containing “the lowest mercury of any brand.” The implication, without any scientific basis, is that other brands somehow represent a genuine health risk, and that this risk justifies charging families on a budget triple the price, or more, for “safe catch” canned tuna.
Indeed, the company’s very existence hinges on promoting the dangerous idea that Americans consuming a few cans of tuna a week might be at risk of mercury poisoning. Founder Sean Wittenberg claims that his own mother was poisoned by doing just that. But he presents zero evidence of any kind to support this claim. In fact, there has never been a case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American medical journal.
Consumer mercury content standards are already extremely rigorous. Specifically, the FDA’s recommended limit for mercury in seafood has a ten-fold safety-factor built in. The FDA’s Net Effects report, which is based on 100 peer-reviewed studies, found that even a pregnant woman could eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, without worry.
How does your average can of tuna stack up by the numbers? Well, the FDA recommends eating fish that has less than 1.0 parts per million (ppm) mercury. Canned light tuna has 0.128 ppm and canned white tuna has 0.35 ppm, both far below the FDA’s threshold and any levels associated with harm.
The truth is, Safe Catch’s business model offers a solution in search of a problem. While TechCrunch is reporting that Safe Catch Tuna is “on a mission to eradicate the risk of mercury poisoning from your fish,” they are actually contributing to a nationwide public health crisis. The nutritional and medical communities all agree that Americans desperately need to eat more fish to improve cognitive function and reduce preventable cardiac deaths. Companies like Safe Catch, which exploit mercury myths in a cynical bid to improve their competitive position, will only lead to Americans eating less fish, overall, as they worry unduly about mercury exposure.
This raises serious questions about Safe Catch’s motives. The scientific consensus on mercury and seafood consumption isn’t kept under lock and key. All of this information is available via a quick Google search. So, is Safe Catch unaware of this data, or are they just accidentally misleading consumers to make a buck? Neither scenario should give consumers much comfort.
Unsubstantiated claims made by unqualified parties are no substitute for sound science.
Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council published fake news. While the FDA, EPA, scientists, and nutritionists are all calling for Americans to eat more seafood – including canned tuna – the NRDC is doing just the opposite. A post on keeping kid-friendly food in the kitchen includes a warning from NRDC’s Miriam Rotkin-Ellman that canned tuna is not safe for children. The NRDC’s entire argument is an unsourced claim that there is a “documented case” of a child getting mercury poisoning from eating tuna sandwiches every day
Meanwhile, the empirical record is clear. There has never been an instance of mercury poisoning from normal commercial seafood consumption recorded in any American medical journal.
NRDC’s failure to improperly source this claim is particularly egregious because it exacerbates a public health crisis.
The organization’s recommendation that parents steer clear of tuna contradicts the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which urge consumers to eat more fish and recommends tuna as a healthy option. Moreover, studies have found that insufficient seafood consumption is to blame for nearly84,000 preventable deaths each year, and that seafood consumption helps ensure brain and eye development in children. In fact, A long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs. Those children missed out on key nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids –which every major health organization says are essential for healthy brain development.
The NRDC claims to be committed to using the combined expertise of lawyers, scientists, and policy experts to make the world a better place, but pieces like this suggest they’re more committed to activism than science. If they’re at all serious about accurately informing their readers, they need to immediately remove fake news from their website & commit to publishing analysis grounded in sound scientific inquiry.
It’s that time of year again – time for Greenpeace to ramp up their end-of-year fundraising efforts. Theannual rank’n’spank from Greenpeace is once again focused on bringing in donations by disparaging foodservice providers. Their annual, arbitrary ranking of seafood sustainability first targeted brands; a few years later, they switched to retailers. Last year, Greenpeace moved on to foodservice suppliers. This year’s Sea of Distress report continues the trend of using subjective and hidden scoring methodology in an attempt to pit companies against each other all in an effort to drive Greenpeace fundraising efforts.
Science, Maybe You’ve Heard of It
Unfortunately, Greenpeace is so preoccupied with these money-making schemes that it’s failed to stay up-to-date on the latest scientific research. This has put them in the embarrassing position of criticizing seafood companies for using ecologically superior fishing methods. Their latest report recommends only using tuna caught by “pole and line, troll, handline, or FAD-free catch methods.” Yet a University of California studyfound that these methods are extremely carbon intensive, consuming approximately three to four times more fuel than boats using more efficient methods. As a result of their failure to do the most elementary scientific inquiry, Greenpeace activists find themselves in the awkward position of advocating for increased pollution as a means of preserving tuna stocks, even at a time when scientists say global tuna stocks are healthy.
Greenpeace’s Nutritional Nonsense
More egregiously, Greenpeace goes as far as telling consumers to “eat less seafood.” Not content to simply peddle bad science, Greenpeace is now promoting bad nutrition advice. Their campaign against seafood comes at a time when nutritionists agree that Americans need to eat more seafood, not less. TheDietary Guidelines for Americansurge consumers to eat more fish. Studies have found that insufficient seafood consumption is to blame for nearly 84,000 preventable deaths each year, and that seafood is an essential part of brain and eye development in children. Yet Greenpeace ignores reams of unbiased, peer reviewed scientific research attesting to the importance of seafood, instead contributing to American health woes by offering reckless nutrition advice.
Attention Greenpeace Donors
Donors to Greenpeace should note their money is being wasted and these reports fail to address real sustainability efforts. Instead, Greenpeace will continue to lose millions in donor money bet on financial speculation, desecratesacred places, and dress up in animal costumes to make music videos. Since Greenpeace refuses to do actual research on seafood sustainability or take a seat at the table where real sustainability efforts are discussed, they’re reduced to rehashing the same old campaign. The question is, why do donors keep falling for the same, washed-up tactics?
Foodservice dedicated to sustainability
Foodservice companies are dedicated to supply chain sustainability. The seafood community on so many levels has worked with scientists, ocean experts, industry leaders, and fisheries champions to craft effective, enforceable, and verifiable sustainability practices. Having Greenpeace chime in once a year to say these groups don’t do enough is absurd. Instead of wasting money on a fundraiser with terrible nutritional advice, perhaps Greenpeace should invest in actual research, hire scientists, and join in on meaningful sustainability discussions.
Last week, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF)—a group of scientists, fisheries experts, and industry leaders working together to implement sound fishing practices that support the long-term health and conservation of fisheries around the globe—highlighted two encouraging pieces of news. Thefirst was the remarkable progress made in innovating environmentally friendly—and even biodegradable—Fish Aggregating Devices (or FADs), in an encouraging marriage of efficiency and sustainability, science and commerce. The second was a report on how ISSF is working with scientists in food-insecure parts of the world to turn previously discarded fish called “bycatch” into sources of critical nutrition.
Around the same time, the notorious global fundraising behemoth Greenpeace announced a “ranking” of Canadian canned tuna brands based on subjective criteria and a hidden methodology. It received little coverage in the press.
The contrast here is instructive.
The National Fisheries Institute and the Tuna Council created Tuna For Tomorrow because the health of our fisheries is our highest priority. As part of our commitment to meeting global tuna demand in an environmentally sound way, we work with organizations like ISSF to make sure we’re doing all we can on that score. In our part of the ocean, the news is good: stocks of skipjack and albacore are plentiful, and are being fished sustainably.
But while we’ve been engaged in this important work, irresponsible activist groups like Greenpeace have spent decades making scientifically baseless claims about the seafood community, raising millions of dollars by creating the false impression that tuna stocks are endangered while ignoring countervailing evidence, and using threats, boycotts, and reckless publicity stunts to push for methods that are neither sustainable nor practical.
We created this platform in part to hold such groups accountable for their actions in the public discourse. In the years since we began this mission, more and more stakeholders—from retailers and consumers, to community groups and local and national governments—have come to recognize Greenpeace’s distortions for what they are. But there is much work left to be done. In particular, we believe the environmental and industry press has an ethical and professional responsibility to confront false, misleading, and irresponsible information as it arises. But all too often, coverage centers on agenda driven claims and gross mischaracterizations made by radical activists. These claims mislead consumers and we have a duty to correct the record.
Specifically, we believe these issues deserve closer examination:
Despite their professed regard for the environment, Greenpeace’s preferred methods are often impractical and environmentally inferior to current strategies. A University of California study found that the fishing methods favored by Greenpeace are extremely carbon intensive, consuming approximately three to four times more fuel than boats using more efficient methods Greenpeace opposes. Is Greenpeace comfortable recommending fishing practices that create significantly more pollution?
Each year, Greenpeace issues a rating system for tuna companies based on a shifting set of criteria. Yet in a departure from established norms in the scientific and academic community, the organization refuses to release its methodology. Why?
The practicality of the fishing methods Greenpeace prefers also raises questions about the organization’s motives. The consequences of the broad adoption of fishing methods preferred by radical environmentalists would be to drastically limit global supplies, making it more difficult for consumers to access one of the most affordable, nutritious forms of seafood there is. Does that bother Greenpeace?
Greenpeace’s calls to eat less seafood are at odds with recommendations made by the Food and Drug Administration as well as leading groups in the medical and scientific communities—all of whom warn Americans are already consuming dangerously little seafood. Peer-reviewed research has shown low seafood consumption is responsible for up to 84,000 preventable deaths each year, and is associated with poorer cognitive and developmental outcomes for young children. How does Greenpeace justify its advice in light of this expert consensus?
As long as these issues persist, Tuna for Tomorrow will be a place where they are discussed openly, honestly, and with an invitation to all comers to participate in the conversation. While we’ve made great progress, both in advancing sustainable fisheries and combatting misinformation from opportunist activist groups, our work is far from done. And we aren’t going anywhere.