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U.S. Fish Consumption Advice Updated

Omega-3 advocates rejoiced over draft updated advice from EPA and FDA which encouraged mothers and young children to increase low-mercury fish consumption.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA recently released the highly anticipated draft updated advice, “Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know." It represents a revision to the current controversial advice, “What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish," published more than 10 years ago and blamed for causing a reduction in fish intake—and thus, a reduction in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake. The revision is intended to “encourage pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and young children to eat more fish and to eat a variety of fish from choices that are lower in mercury." The advice is also being updated to bring it in line with the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

In addition to providing the following advice, an accompanying FAQ section provides greater detail (such as the associated mercury levels of different types of fish): 

• Eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish a week.

• Choose fish lower in mercury.

• Avoid four types of fish: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.

• When eating fish you or others have caught from streams, rivers and lakes, pay attention to fish advisories on those waterbodies.

• When adding more fish to your diet, be sure to stay within your calorie needs.

Through the years, there has been much pressure on the agencies, primarily FDA, to revise the advisory report. For example, in March, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Mercury Policy Report filed a lawsuit against FDA for delaying its report. In 2013, a group of senators wrote to President Barack Obama asking for FDA to finalize the guidance and in 2010, world-renowned fatty acid scientists urged FDA Commissioner Hamburg to finalize the advice.

While the draft guidance is a step in the right direction, a final draft of the guidance is far from complete. Public comments are being sought on both the content of the advice and how best to frame the advice for consumers. The FDA Advisory Committee on Risk Communications plans to convene a public meeting and there may be other public meetings around the country. None of these meetings have been scheduled. In addition, if the guidance is to be aligned with the Dietary Guidelines, it will need to be delayed until the publication of the 2015 revision.

The guidance relies heavily on data that the benefits of omega-3 consumption outweigh the risks of mercury consumption. Capt. Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., acting chief of the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics; Section of Nutritional Neuroscience at National Institutes of Health (NIH), gave a presentation at the GOED Exchange 2014 that discussed the theoretical rationale for updating the guidance. Click the colored text link to view the presentation video.

GOED will work with the Regulatory Committee to prepare comments and will continue to monitor the situation and report back to the GOED membership with important developments.

Information provided by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega 3s (GOED).

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