June 17, 2009

Seafood guidelines may be inaccurate

Researchers say U.S. Food and Drug Administration methods of creating seafood consumption guidelines may not offer reliably accurate food safety assessments.

University of North Dakota scientists said that when mercury levels are measured in fish, the levels of the mineral selenium also need to be considered. But since only mercury levels are presently being assessed, FDA evaluations of risk from ocean fish consumption are being overstated, and, conversely, risks from eating fresh water fish might be much greater than currently assumed.

The researchers said selenium is an essential nutrient, but mercury binds to selenium with a significantly high affinity, preventing it from performing its essential functions in the body.

Since selenium and mercury occur together in seafood, but affect health outcomes in opposing directions, it is essential to look at the balance of these elements present in fish, research scientist Nicholas Ralston, who led the study, said.

The research -- funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protect Agency -- is detailed in the journal EcoHealth.