FDA Sued Over Mercury Labeling of Fish

The average American today is better informed about food than at any other time in history, but there is still room for more information. As the government agency responsible for public food safety, the FDA usually bears the brunt of demands for changes in food labeling policy. According to a recent news article, The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Mercury Policy Project filed a lawsuit against the FDA demanding that more warning labels be applied to fish that may have high mercury content.

Why is Mercury in Fish a Big Deal?

Mercury is a highly toxic metal. It exists in many places, but it is especially a problem for marine life due to human industrial activity. Mercury released into the air eventually enters water sources and then finds its way to the ocean where it becomes locked into the marine food chain. The mercury then concentrates at the top of the food chain, so larger fish and marine predators tend to have the highest levels of mercury in their system.

Most of the warnings sought in the lawsuit target pregnant women and children because there is a much lower tolerance for mercury in children. If a pregnant woman consumes mercury, the metal will contaminate the fetus, and mercury contamination has been linked to many adverse health conditions, especially neurological disorders.

Not All Fish Are Equal

Since mercury concentrates at the top of the food chain, there are a select few types of fish with high concentrations. These include sharks, swordfish, king and Spanish mackerel, most types of tuna, and several others. The location of the fish is also something to consider. Any fish raised in farms, especially in Asia, tend to contain more mercury and other contaminants due to the significantly higher contaminants in the water.

The good news is that most species of fish are safe, and they can be enjoyed regularly. Even the contaminated fish can be eaten safely in small and infrequent amounts, although the species at the top of the list should be avoided completely.

Why a Lawsuit?

Lawsuits are common ways that organizations and individuals can affect policy change. This particular lawsuit does not claim any restitution or damages like injury lawsuits. Instead, it demands a needed change and attempts to push the court to enforce the change. It is often a more efficient way to enact change than lobbying or political process, but it is not always successful. Even if such a lawsuit fails, however, it will still have brought the concern more into the public eye, which can still have a beneficial effect.

The current lawsuit is still undecided. If the lawsuit is successful, then the warning labels will become mandatory and hopefully the public will become even better informed about the risks of certain kinds of fish. It will also help focus the concern. Consumers do not need to be wary of all fish, but they do need to be wary of certain species.

Sources:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-12/consumers-need-mercury-labels-on-seafood-claims-lawsuit-against-fda
http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-does-mercury-get-into/
http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/oct2006/2006-10-17-02.asp