Do Benefits of Seafood Outweigh the Risks? A recent investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that local supermarkets sold seafood contaminated with unsafe levels of mercury. And the FDA recently warned pregnant women and children to curb their consumption of big fish -- such as tuna -- that contain high levels of mercury. How safe is the fish Americans consume?

Do Benefits of Seafood Outweigh the Risks?

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You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. In this year of fast food and fad diets, there's always been one recommendation that almost all nutrition, health and diet experts agree on. And that is, eat more fish, salmon, sardines, fish like that, because they're rich in heart-protecting omega 3 fatty acids.

But at the same time, just as we've come to embrace that idea, we're warned by the Food and Drug Administration against eating too much fish, mostly the big fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark, because they may contain high amounts of mercury. And eating too much mercury has been shown to cause neurobiological problems, particularly in fetuses and young children. Remember the Mad Hatter? It was the mercury in those headbands that was the cause. So, what should you do? Is it safe to order that tuna fish sandwich for lunch or that sashimi for dinner? Well, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune last year found that the fish sold in supermarkets throughout Chicago area were contaminated with unsafe levels of mercury. The reporters say they've also found evidence that the government is not doing its job to protect consumers from what they call “a mercury menace.”

This hour we're going to talk with a Tribune reporter about his investigation, with a scientist about what is known about the effects of mercury in the body including how much mercury is too much. And if there are unsafe levels of mercury in the fish sold in your supermarket, why are they allowed to sell it? Our number 1-800-989-8255 if you'd like to join in the discussion, 1-800-989-TALK. And, as always, you can surf over to our website at Michael Hawthorne is an environment reporter at the Chicago Tribune in Chicago. He joins us today from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY Michael.

Mr. MICHAEL HAWTHORNE (Environment reporter, Chicago Tribune): Thanks Ira, good to be here.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Gary Meyers M.D. Dr. Meyers is a pediatric neurologist and a neonatologist at Strong Memorial Hospital and a professor of neurology, of pediatrics, and of environmental medicine at the Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. He joins us by phone from his office there. Welcome to the program Dr. Meyers.

Dr. GARY MEYERS (Pediatric neurologist and neonatologist, Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, New York): Thank you.

FLATOW: Michael Hawthorne, let me begin with you. Your paper, the Chicago Tribune, conducted and investigation. And it was really interesting. The opening article took us back over 30 years to a can of tuna fish.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, initially, we looked back at what the government had and had not done over the past several decades. And about 30 years ago, there was a researcher in Upstate New York and he was testing fish for contaminants at a stream, and one of his students said well, what about tuna. And the guy scratched his head, said you know, I don't know. And so he went to a store and bought a can of tuna fish and found very high levels of mercury in it. In fact, at the time, much higher, double what the federal government at that time, at least, considered to be a safe level of mercury in fish. And as a result of that, the federal government pulled about 12 million tins of tuna fish off the shelves. They later told Americans to stop eating swordfish altogether. And then it just all went away. It just all went away. And over time, we found that every now and then someone, a researcher or two, will take a look at this. And various other researchers have been looking at this for quite some time. And what has happened is the science in many ways has changed, but government policy has not changed with it.

FLATOW: What do you mean the science has changed?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, the science has gotten better. At least from what we've reviewed and what the National Academy of Scientists determined in 2000 was that it takes much lower levels of mercury to cause harm than previously thought. The government standard though, for what can be “legally sold in a supermarket,” hasn't changed since 1979. And in fact, that level was set after the government went to court. The swordfish industry, the seafood industry in general, sued the government, said that they did not have the authority to order fish off the shelves because they were contaminated with mercury. The government lost and, even though the judge in that case, in an appellate court in that case, found that if the science did change then perhaps their ruling would change, the government never bothered to go back and redo that.

And so they set this level, and if you look at the federal register filing, which we did, among the many reasons that they gave for this, the scientific reason they gave was they looked at some of the research at the time and, basing it on a 150 pound man, not a woman or a child, they said, you know, well, people don't eat as much fish as people thought before, so therefore, there's really not a risk. And then at the same time they said, you know what, if we doubled the acceptable amount of mercury in fish, you know what will happen? There will be underused fisheries that will be used, other types of seafood will be fished, you know, deeper places in the ocean where these large predator fish are. Those fish will be able to legally be sold in this country. And in fact, then they also said that consumer confidence in seafood in general would increase. And whether or not that had something to do with it, you know, there were a lot of other things going on, but as a result of that, or after that happened, you know, seafood consumption in this country went up quite a bit.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Dr. Meyers, you know mercury's a toxin, you've studied the question for more than 15 years, really studied the question and its effects on children. Tell us about your study.

Dr. MEYERS: Well, it goes back quite some time. We actually started, the group here in Rochester, first began studying mercury, Dr. Clarkson was studying it some 50 years ago. And we got into looking at methyl mercury following the epidemic that occurred in Iraq in 1971 and '72. And when we went to Iraq, Dr. David Marsh and I went on numerous occasions, and examined children who had been exposed and who had not been exposed to mercury during that epidemic, including some children who had been poisoned at the time. And when we looked at all of our data, what it pointed to was that perhaps, hair levels, and mercury is generally measured in hair, as low as ten parts per million might possibly be associated with adverse effects in child development.

The only issue was that nobody ate fish in Iraq. So, we felt a responsibility to start looking at actual populations of people who consumed fish to see if that, in fact, was the case. And that led to our studies in the Seychelles. Those are now in their about 20th year. We have been looking at this issue very closely over that period of time. We've now examined over 2,000 people in the Seychelles. The Seychelles is an interesting place because we went there because people consume large amounts of fish. You know, here in the United States, most people, if they have fish once or twice a week, it's a little bit unusual. But in the Seychelles, people consume fish every day.

And when we first enrolled our cohort of over 700 children, what we refer to as the main cohort, the women reported to us that they were eating fish 12 times every week. So they had fish with meals on 12 occasions every week. That's almost 50 times a month, which is about, at least, ten times what is commonly seen here in the United States. In addition, their hair levels averaged almost seven parts per million, which is about ten times higher than the average here in the United States, as well. So we...

FLATOW: So they were eating, getting a lot of mercury is what you're saying.

Dr. MEYERS: Well, they were eating a lot of fish and their mercury levels were higher than what is here in the United States. And so, we set up a longitudinal study and have been following this cohort of over 700 children for the past 15 years. And actually, we're just in the process of evaluating these children again. We've examined them on six occasions previously with extensive batteries of neurological, psychological, behavioral, and other kinds of tests. We've tried to use almost every test that's been used in any other study of mercury, or other toxins, actually. And, over that period of time, we've looked at a variety of things. We have very good data. The cohort has been extremely well characterized in a variety of different ways. And we know exactly what their prenatal exposure was to mercury, how much they got.

FLATOW: And what did you find?

Dr. MEYERS: Well, we've looked at about 60 different endpoints and what we've found so far is we've found an association between mercury and children's developmental endpoints. Four times out of 60 different endpoints...

FLATOW: I'm not sure we understand. Can you try to boil it down a little more lay language?

Dr. MEYERS: Let me try to explain a little. What is done is the children are given a variety of tests, things like IQ tests, so that you can give an IQ test and you end up with a variety of what are called endpoints when you do that. One endpoint might be your total IQ score. Another might be your IQ score based on your verbal performance during that test. Another might be your IQ score based on your motor skills during that test. So, there are a variety of tests like this. And the value that one ends up with is simply called an endpoint. And then what's done is one looks at the relationship between And then what's done is one looks at the relationship between prenatal mercury exposure and that endpoint to see if there is an association. In other words, if the children who have higher levels of exposure do better or worse on that test. So, we've now looked at over 60 end points in Seychelles, what are referred to as primary end points. And what we found is four associations with mercury. One of those was adverse. That is, the children did more poorly as their mercury levels increased. This was a motor task actually. We found two that have been beneficial. That is, as the mercury levels went up, the children did better in their performance. And one that we found difficult to interpret was that boys were less active as their mercury went up slightly. We weren't sure if that was a beneficial affect or an adverse affect. So, we found these four associations. Now, one normally expects to find about one out of every 20 just by chance. So, our conclusion so far is that we've found no consistent evidence of any adverse effects from mercury exposure from fish consumption at the levels that are taking in Seychelles.

FLATOW: Is there not a study from Harvard's Farrow Island study showing that high levels of mercury passed from mother to child in utero produced irreversible impairments to specific brain functions in children.

Dr. MYERS: Well, that's an interesting study, the one that was done in the Farrow. It's really quite an excellent study. It's an observation epidemiological study where one simply examines children. And they did pretty much the same thing that we did in terms of evaluating the children. There are some differences though, and one of the differences was that the exposure in the Farrows was different than an exposure in Seychelles. In Seychelles, the women eat fish. In the Farrows, women eat fish, and they also eat whale meat. And whale meat actually has quite high levels of mercury and it's eaten episodically so that periodically one gets a bolis, if you will, of mercury from consuming whale meat. And whale also has another difference from just straight fish in that there are multiple other contaminants that are present in whales. PCBs being the most common one, but in addition there's cadmium and dioxins and a variety of other things. And they did report that there was some associations between the end points and mercury. Now, you need to understand when you do these studies that they're rather complex to do. And you have to factor out a variety of other things when you try to reach conclusions. So you have to look at all the other things that affect child development as well in order to say that whatever you're finding is related to the mercury.

FLATOW: Hmm. Michael Hawthorne when you, let me just remind everybody that this is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. When you went into the supermarkets and studied the mercury content of the fish there, were you surprised by how high the levels were?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, in some cases, no, but in some cases, yes. We knew, for example, that sword fish likely would be high. What we were surprised about is that we found so many samples of sword fish at randomly selected supermarkets that were above what the government would consider to be legal, and yet it's still being sold. There's no warning label required on this or anything else like that. And in fact, the Food and Drug Administration, although they say in their documentation and other things like that, that any fish over that certain limit, that they will take legal action to prevent its sale, they don't do that, and they acknowledge that they don't do that, and so they've decided that instead they will warn women and children especially about certain types of fish.

FLATOW: So are they, so they in effect ignoring the law by not...

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, it's not necessarily law. It's a rule and they call it an action level. That's the way they describe it but the way they define an action level is anything above that limit. And they have these action levels for many different types of contaminants, not just in fish, but in other things as well. They define an action level as anything above that level, they will take legal action to remove this product, this food stuff, whatever, off of the market.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. We actually asked someone, we asked the FDA to send someone as spokesperson to come on the program, and they decided they would rather not come on SCIENCE FRIDAY. So, what conclusion did you reach about the safety of the fish that people are eating in the supermarkets? Can you tell from looking at it whether it's got high levels of mercury or not?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: You couldn't tell at all. In fact, you could go to a supermarket display case, and because there's wide variability in many different types of fish, even in tuna, even in swordfish. We found relatively low levels of mercury in some swordfish. It depends generally on the size and age and diet of the fish. And because many of these fish, especially large predator fish like tuna, are traveling throughout the oceans, it's really difficult to determine, you know, when they're going to be in some kind of part of the ocean where their diet will be high in mercury. And so, you could have, for example, two pieces of tuna in a supermarket display case, the one could be very high in mercury, the one could be relatively low. And there's no way to know whether that's the case. And so, it's sort of a, it's like a little bit of a grocery store roulette there with that.

And there is a number of scientists. I know Dr. Myers has been working on this study for a long time. But there are a number of other scientists that believe that these spikes in mercury, if a woman consumes that during pregnancy, that that could have some kind of adverse affect on the development of the fetus and then the child later in life. And what ended up happening was in 2000 partially at the urging of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Sciences took a look at this, and they essentially endorsed a reference dose, a safe level of exposure in a person that was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now, here's another government agency that did the work, but they don't have regulatory authority over commercial fish. So you and I could, for example, go to Lake Erie, and we would, let's say, we're going to go Walleye fishing, and we could catch that Walleye. When we got our fishing license, we would be handed an advisory by whatever state is surrounding there, saying to limit your intake of Walleye because it tends to be high in mercury.

FLATOW: Michael, hold on to that cause we have to take a break and we'll come back and pick up that thought. Talk lots more about mercury in fish and take your phone calls about it. So, stay with us we'll be right back after this short break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about mercury in fish with my guests, Dr. Gary Myers, Michael Hawthorne, a report, an environmental reporter, Chicago Tribune, Dr. Myers is a pediatric neurologist and neonatologist at Strong Memorial Hospital and professor of neurology of pediatrics, and environmental medicine, University of Rochester school of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Michael, you could finish your thought if you want. If you want to recap?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Right. Ira essentially what I was talking about there was there are conflicting advice from the government. You have one agency, the Food and Drug Administration, that actually has legal authority over commercial seafood. You have another agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that does the science because they're basically looking out for the fresh water streams and lakes here in the United States. They've taken a look at the more recent science on mercury exposure, and they came up with a level that was later in 2000, endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. There was a group that the FDA got together to look at this that led to their advisory to pregnant women and children. But their underlying science, their underlying policy, is essentially not changed based on the science.

FLATOW: Dr. Myers go ahead.

Dr. MYERS: Each of these reference doses is an interesting one because the EPA's reference dose is, of course, the lowest reference dose of any governmental agency around. There are two other agencies. One the FDA, which Michael was just talking about, who actually has a dose similar to the RFD, which is called the ADI, which is actually somewhat higher than the EPA's reference dose. And then the other agency, which has a lot of authority in this area, is the agency for toxic substances and disease registry, which is part of the CDC in Atlanta. And they are actually the agency that is responsible for looking at toxins, and they publish a series of books. They have about 150 toxins that they publish regularly upon, for they are responsible for revealing the science behind things.

FLATOW: Well, let's talk about the science behind this. How much do we know? It seems puzzling from what you're -- what your study has shown with the Seychelles, that we really don't know a lot about how mercury affects behavior in the brain.

Dr. MYERS: Well, we know lots about how mercury affects behavior in the brain...

FLATOW: But you've got a result where people eating more mercury were doing better.

Dr. MYERS: Well, this is at very low levels. You know, what we know about mercury, most of what we know about mercury poisoning, prenatally, before birth, comes from poisoning episodes. There have been fewer than a hundred poisoning episodes that have taken place anywhere in the world. And the majority of those have been from the consumption of grain. It use to be common around the world to treat seed grain. The farmers would treat seed grain methyl mercury, and occasionally people would eat it, and there have been a number of episodes that have been related to that. The only case of methyl mercury poisoning that's ever occurred in the United States, or been reported in the medical literature at least, occurred in that manner, eating seed grain.

FLATOW: So, why would these children do better with more mercury?

Dr. MYERS: Well, they don't do better from the mercury. It's clear that mercury is a toxin.

FLATOW: Well, you just reported that these two groups, or four groups, unless I misunderstood you.

Dr. MYERS: What I said was that they did better on some of the tests.

FLATOW: Right. So why would they do better with having more mercury on some of the tests?

Dr. MYERS: Well, one possibility is that there are lots of beneficial nutrients in fish, and that the mercury is simply a marker for eating more fish. And they're getting more beneficial nutrients.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Ira, I think there's another study at Harvard that was published last year. Not the one that you were referencing to the Farrow Islands. But this was folks from the Harvard School of Public Health took a look at women in the Boston area, and essentially they did, it was another one of these tests to basically look at cognition, and what they found was that women who ate a lot of fish, their children tended to do better on that test. But if the mothers had higher levels of mercury in their bodies, the children tended to do worse on the tests. And so the conclusion that the researchers had in that case was, yes, fish, in general, is good for you but if fish are high in mercury, that could offset the mental health benefits, the other benefits of eating fish. And so, essentially what people are saying is, yeah, go ahead and eat fish, but shouldn't we know more about which types of fish are safer to eat, and which types of fish we should either avoid or eat very sparingly.

Dr. MYERS: There's been a lot of, sort of, public relations that's gone on around mercury and its become really quite a political sort of an issue. And, you know, when one looks for cases of children, for instance, who've had learning disorders or other things related to mercury, it's impossible to find them in the literature. There are no proven cases of that. There are fewer than a 100 cases of mercury poisoning prenatally that have ever been described. So, what people are basing these opinions on are these large epidemiological studies that are very difficult to carry out and open to wide variations in interpretation. The Harvard study that Michael's talking about was just slightly over 100 children, and there were some design issues that were very concerning about that particular study. I think that the big studies, the Farrows study, and the Seychelle studies, looking at large numbers of children, are what is required to try to get to the bottom of this problem.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Ira, I wonder if I could just...

FLATOW: Let me just ask a question first. Are you saying that in the Pharoah and the Seychelle studies they did not find any increased incidences of ADHD, or any other kinds of developmental...

Dr. MEYERS: Well, you have to look at what was actually reported from the Farrows. What was reported as an adverse consequence was a statistically significant difference on a test of, one of the tests was a test called finger tapping. And if you look at the data, what you see when the data is plotted is this huge cloud of points. And somebody draws a line through that based on statistical analysis, and it either goes up, or down, or stays flat. In the case of finger tapping, in the Farrows, where they did find a significant association, it amounted to roughly one finger tap in 15 seconds, between those children who had the higher exposure and those who had the lower exposure. Now, most people would not define that as a developmental disability, a learning disability, or mental retardation.

FLATOW: That's what I'm asking. I mean, there are other issues these days, like we're seeing an increase in ADD, ADHD, other kinds of childhood disorders. Were these sort of things tested, or tried to be teased out, from the Farrows or the Seychelles?

Dr. MYERS: They were.

FLATOW: And they were not found?

Dr. MYERS: And they were not found.

FLATOW: Not found. Okay.

Dr. MYERS: No, in fact, if one looks at the Farrows children, the Farrows researchers have been to Seychelles, and we've been to Farrows, and all the children are healthy. We are looking at small differences statistically when we try to identify these relationships.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: I think, Ira...

FLATOW: Gary, go ahead.

Dr. MYERS: Go ahead. Go ahead...

FLATOW: Oh, Michael, go ahead. I'm sorry.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: No, I'm sorry. I think, you know, as a reporter, as a journalist, when we try to make sense of this, I mean, science tends to be kind of noisy. And, where do you go? So, oftentimes what we'll look to, and what the scientific looks to, and what the policy committee tends to look to, meaning the government and lawmakers, is, you know, let's have the National Academy take a look at this. And again, I'm sorry to sound like a broken record here, but when they did take a look at this in 2000, I mean, one of the conclusions that they made was that, based on their look at all of the studies that had been done to that point, at that point, that the risk to women who consumed large amounts of seafood during their pregnancy is likely, and I'm quoting exactly from their report, is likely to be sufficient to result in an increase in the number of children who have to struggle to keep up in school. That's what they said.

And again, they endorse this EPA level, which, as Dr. Myers said, is the lowest amount. But there are a number of scientists out there, including people who were on that panel, that it may not be even low enough. And so, but what ends up happening here, and I think what we were trying to point out in our series, is that, what tends to happen sometimes is when there's all this confusion, you essentially have paralysis. And the government doesn't really do anything. And so while various entities of the government, various people in government, are saying that this can be avoided, and it could be avoided, what they're not doing is giving Americans good advice so they can go to their supermarket and shop for something safely. That's basically what's happening right now.

FLATOW: In other words, labels on the food, things like that?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, that's what some people would say. Why should you have to go to a very hard to manage government website to find some information, and then when you back out, what the government actually says, and you look at how they come up with some of their advice, they actually acknowledge there, and this is in public records, they actually acknowledge that they based some of their recommendations, not on whether the fish was necessarily safe to eat, but on market share. And should a government agency that's in charge of protecting public health, this is one of the points we make in the series, should that agency be basing something on market share, or should they be basing it on what's safe for public health?

Dr. MYERS: I think they should be basing it on what's safe for public health. And I think we all should be basing what we recommend on what's best for children's health. And if consuming fish is good for children's health, then we should be recommending that. If the toxicity of the mercury at higher levels is a problem, then we should recommend that they not consume things that are higher level. But, you know, the brain is a large percentage of fatty acids, and the fatty acids that are present in fish are basically building blocks for children's brains. And it's important that children get these. I mean, recently people have been arguing about, and recommending adding DEHA, which is one of the, long-chain fatty acids, to baby's formulas for this very reason. So, I think that we have to...

Mr. HAWTHORNE: But you'll notice that some fish, right, I mean, some fish are not high in...

Dr. MYERS: That's true.

Mr. HAWTHORNE: these various acids in some of the fish, you know, including some types of tuna.

Dr. MYERS: I think we need to be careful that whatever we do is best for the children's health. And at the moment, you know, the things that have been shown clearly, scientifically, to be beneficial to children's health are omega-3 fatty acids. And the risk of the toxicity is a theoretical risk, still, at this point in time.

FLATOW: But do we know at what level, Dr. Myers, mercury becomes dangerous? We know its toxic, but do we know at what level, if you eat it, it's going to become dangerous?

Dr. MYERS: We don't, and that's part of the issue. You know, and one of the interesting things is that the level of exposure in the Farrows, for example, was lower than the level of exposure in the Seychelles. We know at high levels that it's quite toxic. The people who were poisoned in Minamata had exposures of 100 or 200. The fish at Minamata, that the people were eating, had had 50 parts per million of mercury in the flesh. Now that's a hundred times what is the standard for most of the fish in the U.S.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We're talking about mercury in fish this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Michael, how could the government's consumer advisory be strengthened? Do we tell them -- first of all, let me ask do we know where the mercury is coming from?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, that's a good question. I mean it's coming...

FLATOW: Why not stop it at the source, you know?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: ...there's natural sources of mercury in the oceans. Volcanoes and forest fires, and what not, those are all sources of mercury. In the United States, the largest man-made source of mercury pollution is coal fired power plants, and this has been a huge debate in Washington and across the country, because there are, for the first time, rules being proposed to limit emissions of mercury from power plants. That's one source. It's a global cycle, but the courts have ruled, and the government has decided, that there's enough of it that is from man-made sources that it's getting into fish, its contaminating fish, and therefore, you know, at least at one point in time, what we found is the government was very aggressive about going after this. And then, for various reasons they decided not to. And instead, they essentially leave it up to you and me to figure out which fish are safe to eat.

FLATOW: Well, how do we do that? What do you think the government should be doing more of in letting us know? And how can a consumer take action on his or her self?

Mr. HAWTHORNE: Well, I think what a lot of people would agree on is that there needs to be a heck of a lot more testing. I mean, we found that the government, for example, had tested four walleye, a very common, popular freshwater fish here in the Midwest. They tested four walleye, about 26 shrimp, in the last 25 years. Other types of fish, they've tested very little types of those fish. And so, you really don't know if they have a good idea what the levels are in certain types of fish. When they do test them, essentially, their own tests can show that mercury is more pervasive in fish than what they have told the public. And so, that makes it more difficult for consumers to avoid the problem. And really, there's no place that they can go to shop to avoid it. It really comes down to the type of fish you eat. So, if you eat the shorter, smaller lived fish, and some of those fish like salmon and sardines, they tend to be very high in those fatty acids that Dr. Myers was talking about, and low in mercury. Some of the other fish, including some types of tuna, tend to be high in mercury and low in the beneficial fatty acids. And you, but you really, what you have to do is you have to be like a reporter, you have to be like a journalist and you have to go through these somewhat difficult to understand government websites and piece it all together. And I think there are a lot of people in good faith that would say that that's really not the way the government should be doing things.

FLATOW: Dr. Myers, last word?

Dr. MYERS: Well, I think it's really important for the children's health to keep in mind that the proof, there are proven benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on children's neuro development, and that at this point in time, that the scientific evidence supporting the risks to low-levels that most people here in the U.S. are exposed to, are simply theoretical.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. So, you recommend to just go out and eat fish then?

Dr. MYERS: Well. I think that one should do everything in moderation. But certainly, children need the long-chained fatty acids that are present in fish.

FLATOW: So, if you had children, you just wouldn't care about how much tuna they ate during the week?

Dr. MYERS: I would feel very comfortable feeding them tuna. The children in both Seychelles and Farrows are extremely healthy, and in fact the Seychelles lead the Indian Ocean in their athletics.

FLATOW: We won't get into the pesticides question. That'll be a different topic, in different fish. I want to thank both of you for taking time to talk with us. Dr. Gary Meyers, pediatric neurologist and neonatalogist at Strong Memorial Hospital and professor of neurology of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, in Rochester, New York. Thank you. Michael Hawthorne, environmental reporter at the Chicago Tribune, in Chicago, Illinois, and author of a really interesting series of reports on mercury. You can probably find them on their website at Thank you both for taking time to be with us today.

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