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The Chicago Tribune reports that “supermarkets throughout the Chicago area are routinely selling seafood highly contaminated with mercury, a toxic metal that can cause learning disabilities in children and neurological problems in adults.”

In an almost-3,000-word investigative piece, the Tribune reports that not only is much of the fish sold in Chicago so tainted that it could be confiscated by federal authorities, but that the problem is far more pervasive that previously believed, applying to a wide range of seafood items sold in a broad number of outlets and formats.

From the Tribune story:

“Regulators have repeatedly downplayed the hazards, failed to take basic steps to protect public health and misled consumers about the true dangers, documents and interviews show.

“The government does not seize high-mercury fish that violate U.S. limits. Regulators do not even inspect seafood for mercury--not in ports, processing plants or supermarkets.

“In fact, federal officials have tested so few fish that they have only a limited idea of how much mercury many species contain, government data show. For example, the government has tested just four walleye and 24 shrimp samples since 1978. The newspaper tested more samples of commercial walleye than the government has in the last quarter-century.

“The fishing industry also has failed consumers. The newspaper's investigation found that U.S. tuna companies often package and sell a high-mercury tuna species as canned light tuna--a product the government specifically recommends as a low-mercury choice.

“The consequence is that eating canned tuna--one of the nation's most popular foods--is far more hazardous than what the government and industry have led consumers to believe.”

According to the Tribune story, “Mercury can damage the central nervous system of children, causing subtle delays in walking and talking as well as decreased attention span and memory.

“Adults can experience headaches, fatigue, numbness in the hands and feet, and a lack of concentration. Some studies suggest that men also face an increased risk of heart attacks.”

The newspaper also reports that “officials with the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for the safety of commercial seafood, told the Tribune that the agency has neither the time nor= the money to routinely test fish. They also said the government's task of protecting consumers is complex.”

"If fish were only bad, this would be easy," David Acheson, the FDA's chief medical officer, told the paper. "But fish have many benefits."
KC's View:
What is really remarkable about this story is how little testing is being done by the agency charged with protecting the population, and how little information retailers and consumers actually have about mercury in fish.

This is scandalous. There is no excuse, except perhaps for lack of funding and lack of infrastructure. But those aren’t really excuses. Just explanations.