The National Academy of Sciences will release the results of a study on the health risks and benefits of eating fish at a Tuesday, Oct. 17 press conference. University of Maryland expert Dr. Maureen Storey, director of the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy (CFNAP), is available for expert comment on issues of consumer perception of the risks from eating seafood that may contain mercury versus the health benefits of eating fish.

Storey is lead author of a white paper on risk communication that CFNAP delivered to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 16 (more below). The white paper urges a new approach to communicating risk and benefits of eating fish and other foods. Storey is also lead author of a CFNAP study of American consumer knowledge of risks of mercury in seafood. (See the CFNAP Website, RealMercury Facts,, an information site to help ?the public understand the science-based facts upon which to make their seafood purchasing decisions.?)

?The government's communication strategy on the risks and benefits of eating fish has not worked,? says Storey. ?People are confused. What has been lost in the emphasis on risk from mercury for some sub-populations, such as pregnant women, is the fact that many types of fish, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, have significant health benefits. People lose out on those benefits if they decrease fish consumption because they're getting a mixed message.?

The CFNAP white paper says government agencies (FDA, EPA, USDA, NOAA) should find new ways to communicate actual risks to the appropriate sub-populations while communicating health benefits to consumers at low risk. ?The overarching recommendation of this paper is that public health organizations must invest in research on risk communication in order to improve public health,? the paper concludes. ?Risk-risk communication is difficult, but it is important,? says Storey. ?We must improve our methods.?

CFNAP White Paper ?Communicating Risk-Risk to the Public: The Case of the Health Benefits and Risks from Eating Seafood? - Highlights:

?The FDA and EPA advise women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to modify fish consumption. However, research has suggested that the 2004 FDA and EPA advisory may cause many consumers to decrease fish consumption, thus jeopardizing the potential health benefits associated with fish consumption.? The concept of a safe level is not understood.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines (USDA) recommend that adults eat fish twice a week. Only 17 percent of Americans follow that advice.

Few Americans are aware of differences in the mercury content of different types of fish. 34 percent couldn't name the types of fish that were higher in mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel). 75 percent didn't know which seafood is lower in mercury (salmon, shrimp, catfish, pollock).

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