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New Report Fuels Confusion About Women, Fish

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New Report Fuels Confusion About Women, Fish

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New Report Fuels Confusion About Women, Fish

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

SIEGEL: An advocacy group called the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition called a news conference in Washington this morning, urging pregnant women and new mothers to eat more fish. It's a message that women have heard before, but this time there's a problem. The recommendations conflict with official public health advice, and the group releasing them has financial ties to the fish industry.

NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY: The answer to the question, how much seafood can pregnant women safely eat was answered last year by an exhaustive review of evidence. The National Academies of Science and the Food and Drug Administration both say the answer is no more than 12 ounces of seafood per week. That's about three to four servings and it's the advice that most doctors stick with.

But enter the group, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, a broad coalition that claims among its members a diverse group of pharmaceutical giants - advocacy groups, professional medical societies and government agencies. Today, this group issued a recommendation, urging pregnant women to eat a minimum of 12 ounces of seafood. The group says more fish is better. But it's a message that makes pediatrician Frank Greer very uncomfortable.

Dr. FRANK GREER (Chairman, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition): I really think it's a wrong recommendation to make at the present time. We should not be recommending, you know, imply that women should be eating more than 12 ounces of seafood.

AUBREY: Greer is the current chair of the Nutrition Committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that was, as of this morning, still listed as a member on the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies' Web site. But Grier says the academy is not a current member, and he says no one he's spoken with knows how the group's recommendation was developed.

Dr. GREER: My typical government sources at the top - they don't know who this group is. That's why I'm a little hesitant about all of this.

AUDREY: Lots of group share Greer's confusion. The top federal government agencies in charge of delivering public health messages were all surprised by the announcement. Christina Pearson, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told NPR that neither the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Food and Drug Administration knew anything about the Healthy Mothers' advice.

Ms. CHRISTINA PEARSON (Spokesperson, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services): We are members of the coalition, but we weren't informed to this announcement in advance and we do not support it.

AUDREY: All of the government groups say they stand firmly by the evidence-based guideline of a maximum of 12 ounces of seafood per week. During the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies' press conference today, someone asked the moderator how the organization was funded. And the answer was that the money comes from membership dues. But upon further questioning, Elizabeth Jordan, a representative of the Healthy Mothers' group, acknowledged that they've also received funding from the National Fisheries Institute, an industry group that promotes seafood.

Ms. ELIZABETH JORDAN (Director, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition): Well, we actually receive this $60,000 educational grant. That money is put forth to create a micro site for the information presented here today.

AUDREY: A Web site, which Jordan said will be used to help inform consumers. But the National Fisheries Institute funding constitutes a clear conflict of interest, according to Caroline Smith DeWaal, who directs nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Ms. CAROLINE SMITH DeWALL (Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest): It's very troubling that the National Fisheries Institute is essentially paying for a public health message.

AUBREY: But the executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, Judy Meehan, says its message is not tainted by the industry funding.

Ms. JUDY MEEHAN (Executive Director, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition): The industry has brought the panel together, paid for their travel to come and review the science, and they are allowing us to share a message that it's really important to eat fish.

AUBREY: Something, most everyone agrees on, as long as it doesn't exceed 12 ounces per week.

AUBREY: Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

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