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October 22, 2008

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Eric McErlain

Here are some hard questions about these guides that some of my clients in the international fisheries and aquaculture industries are asking right now:

* Why is nutritional guidance being given to the public without any peer review or even the availability of the underlying medical assertions?

* Since the guides conflate “mercury and other contaminants” – even citing fish like salmon with scant trace amounts, how can consumers avoid confusion about the specific health threats being alleged?

* If these guides actually dissuade some consumers from eating seafood altogether, as the federal government has warned can occur from alarmist nutritional information, wouldn’t that deny Americans proven and vital health benefits of eating fish?

* Is it appropriate for environmental lobbying groups to be providing nutritional advice to the public in the first place?

DR

You're totally right Eric, we should get our nutritional information from people monetarily linked to the fishing industry.

Tim Fitzgerald

As a marine scientist with Environmental Defense Fund, creator of one of the guides mentioned above, let me respond to Mr. McErlain's comments:

1) Any health information we provide on the sushi guides is absolutely backed 100% by peer-reviewed science and government guidance. We get our information on omega-3s from the USDA Nutrient Database, and our recommendations regarding mercury and PCBs are based on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data for Use In Fish Advisories.

2) Nowhere do we say that salmon (wild or farmed) are high in mercury. However, there are numerous peer-reviewed studies showing that farmed salmon have significantly higher levels of PCBs (a probably human carcinogen) and other contaminants than wild salmon.

3) In an ideal world all fisheries would be well-managed, all fish farms would have minimal environmental impacts, and all seafood would be free of contaminants and high in omega-3s. Unfortunately this is not the case, so we actively encourage eco- and health-conscious consumers to pick fish that are good for them and the oceans.

4) Monterey Bay Aquarium, Blue Ocean Institute and EDF are environmental not-for-profit organizations, not lobbyists. In fact our tax status (501c3) places strict limitations on the lobbying we can do. And with respect to nutritional advice, EDF has an active environmental health program with medical expertise on staff. As a result, EDF is the sole provider of health information to all three of these guides.

Tim Fitzgerald

Geoff Shester, Ph.D.

As the Senior Science Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Initiative, I would also like to respond to Mr. McErlain's comment.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a peer-reviewed, independent source of fisheries information that does not have an inherent conflict of interest.

Our consumer pocket guides have, since 1999, become the most widely trusted source of information about seafood sustainability. Our state-of-the-art, science-based methodology -- which we continually update and refine -- provides a fair, proven way to compare seafood products along a variety of sustainability metrics.

Every seafood recommendation on our sushi card and other pocket guides is accompanied by an exhaustive 50- to 100-page scientific report, which undergoes peer review by leading experts, in a manner similar to the way that scientific journals conduct peer review. The contaminant data in each report is based on allowable levels for mercury and PCBs as specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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