A coalition of obstetricians and nutritionists recently announced that pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat a minimum of 12 ounces of fish per week, contradicting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's advisory that women in this demographic should eat no more than 12 ounces per week due to concerns about mercury contamination.
The announcement, made by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition in conjunction with a Maternal Nutrition Group comprised of 14 obstetricians and nutritionists, was received with skepticism by groups claiming that the research on which the new guidelines are based was funded by the fish industry.
"The group reviewed recent scientific studies and found a link between ocean fish consumption and advanced cognitive and motor skill development in children," said Dr. Ashley Roman, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center and a member of the MNG, in a statement. Judy Meehan, executive director of the HMHB, said that although the organization received $60,000 in grant money from the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry group, the recommendation was based on studies that appeared in peer-reviewed journals and government resources.
Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group took a strong stand against the new recommendation. "It's important when you read these kinds of reports to take a close look at who is funding the research," said Jovana Ruzicic, a spokeswoman for the EWG. "We were appalled when we heard the new science. We don't think those results are accurate, and our research shows differently."
The FDA reportedly has no plans to change its guidelines as a result of the new recommendation, but said it will study the new information.
Despite the debate about the reliability of the research the HMHB used when forming its new guidelines for fish consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding, experts agree: It is a move that's likely to cause confusion about the safety of fish during childbearing years—and leave retailers fielding more questions on the topic.
Said Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association: "I think what retailers can say to their customers is that the jury is still out. So you have the fisheries on one side and some of the government bodies on the other. You want to recommend that pregnant women buy fish that has a low risk of contamination, and if that's not available, talk about fish oils, which are produced to be free of heavy-metal contaminants."