ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand, with this health advice from the government: eat fish, but don't go overboard.

The Institute of Medicine released a new report this morning that recommends people eat fish twice a week. It's good for your heart. But there is the problem of mercury and other contaminants in fish, and that can be bad for kidneys, and also for cognitive development in children.

NPR's Allison Aubrey attended the briefing about the report earlier today. And she joins me now from Washington.

Allison, there are conflicting messages about seafood. You're told to eat seafood for health reasons, and yet there are all these problems with pollution. So today, did the federal government clear up any of that confusion?

ALLISON AUBREY: Yeah, actually, the report released today does go a long way towards saying that the benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks. That is to say that, you know, people gain more by way of the sort of cardiovascular or heart benefits of eating the fish than they risk by possibly consuming the contaminants such as mercury or PCV.

But the committee of scientists this morning did say that consumers would do well with better information from the federal agencies about what amounts of which kinds of fish are safer.

BRAND: And why is this report coming out now?

AUBREY: Well, there are - actually, this report is not based on any new studies. In fact, the 13-member panel of scientists put together by the Institute of Medicine was commissioned to review all of the prior studies that have been done. And the goal was to be able to provide more clear advice to consumers based on the best science. And when the committee reviewed all of the science - all of the health studies on seafood - they were able to confirm that fish may reduce people's overall risk for developing heart disease.

And they - after they looked at the science, they say they're not sure that it's because fish replaces - it's a substitute for meat, which is - has a lot more saturated fat, or if the effect is just due to the fish content of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are thought to be good for us.

BRAND: Okay, so it's says that people should have more information, better information from the government. Did it actually give better information? Did it give a good fish, bad fish list?

AUBREY: Actually, they didn't do good fish, bad fish. What they did is sort of lay out the problem. The committee says the real confusion here stems from the fact that one federal agency puts forth the dietary guidelines coming from Health and Human Services. And when those are released - you know, people are told, you know, eat lots of fish - eat two, three-ounce servings per week. And then, another agency - the Food and Drug Administration - issues these advisories that recommend limiting intake of certain kinds of fish due to concerns over pollution.

Basically, what this report is saying is that we have these answers. We have a lot of information to share with people. The problem is federal agencies have just been way too fragmented in the way they've been giving the information out, and they need to sort of get on the same page and make sure that everybody has a way to understand, or have access to this information that's out there.

BRAND: And we have some of that information on our Web site. We have a list of some recommended fish and the amounts that you should be eating every week at our Web site. It's npr.org. And NPR's Allison Aubrey, thank you.

AUBREY: Thanks, Madeleine.

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