I was about to do a different story on the John Locke Foundation when I stumbled over the latest toxic sludge that oozed out from under the curtain of the Puppetshow: "Fish Tales about Mercury, Why regulation of mercury is all cost and no benefit", or as claimed later in the article: "Methylmercury Generally Is Not a Public Health Concern". Go suck some thermometers boys and belly up to the barometers, mercury is rising! In elemental form mercury is not especially toxic until inhaled as vapor but in aquatic ecosystems it is converted to methylmercury, its most toxic form, which bioaccumulates in fish.
(read more below the fold.......)
The author Daren Bakst is an attorney, not a scientist or a doctor, but an attorney with an MBA who is a Legal and Policy Analyst for the John Locke Foundation. (Another environmental "expert" at the John Locke Foundation is "Dr" Roy Cordato who is not a medical doctor, but an economist with a PhD)
The report references two fish eating studies, one in the Seychelles and in the Faroe Islands.
According to Integrity in Science, funding for the project [on mercury in the Seychelle Islands] was provided by the FDA (through a supplement to the JIFSAN Cooperative Agreement), the Electric Power Research Institute (present funding $486,000), the National Tuna Foundation ($10,000), and the National Fisheries Institute ($5,000).
JIFSAN is the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. JIFSAN receives core funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and University of Maryland, and receives funding for certain projects from industry and others. JIFSAN has an advisory council consisting heavily of food manufacturers and professors (some of whom consult for industry); also includes three consumer representatives. Industry members, most of the big food names, make annual contributions in the $5,000 range to help support JIFSAN.
Regarding the Faroe Islands study the John Locke report states:
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study in the Faroe Islands (Faroe Islands study) that found that there were subtle neuropsychological effects from prenatal methylmercury exposure. Unlike the similarity of diets found in Seychelles Islands study, the diet in the Faroe Islands is far different than the diet of Americans. The major source of methylmercury consumption in the Faroe Islands is whale blubber. The population in the Faroe Islands also is far less diverse than in the Seychelles Islands.
But that summary doesn't tell the whole story:
Measuring heart rates and testing variables such as motor speed, language skills, and attention span, the researchers found subtle but distinct signs of neurological damage. Effects were first apparent at or slightly above mercury levels of 1 microgram per gram of hair, the level of exposure considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The last part was omitted by the John Locke report.
According to the New York Times:
...most of the $500,000 paid for a scientific study of the risks and benefits of hypothetical changes in fish consumption, conducted by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, was paid for by the United States Tuna Foundation, but the foundation is not listed as a funder. Funders listed are the National Food Processors Association Research Foundation, a trade association now known as the Food Products Association, and the Fisheries Scholarship Fund, part of the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry trade association.
The John Locke Report also makes reference a study by the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland. The report is located on a website realmercuryfacts.org managed by CFNAP, (also part of the CERES Forum not to be confused with CERES.org) and according to the New York Times:
The tuna foundation gave $45,000 to the University of Maryland's newly formed Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy to create the Web site realmercuryfacts.org. Public relations for that site are handled by Ruder Finn, whose client is the tuna foundation.
According to the Maryland Daily Record the study was funded by about $40,000 from the U.S. Tuna Foundation.
CFNAP are the same people that brought you studies that said beer is good for you, soda is not so bad, fortified grain is grrrreat and was instrumental in obtaining a Qualified Health Claim approval for tomatoes from the FDA for a consortium called the "Lycopene Health Claim Coalition" led by the Heinz company.
Funders of these and other studies include:
National Soft Drink Association
American Beverage Association
Council for Biotechnology Information, (includes all major biotech seed producers)
National Beer Wholesalers Association Education Foundation
Other "authoritative" sources referenced in the report are the conservative think-tanks American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and, “Mercury in Fact and Fiction,” House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo and House Energy and Mineral Subcommittee Chairman Jim Gibbons. This is the same Richard Pombo so roundly trounced November 7th for his anti-environmental stance. In that incestuous way that the John Locke Foundation has with its preparation of reports the AEI reference is authored by Joel Schwartz another author of John Locke apologia.
For somewhat more grounded information on mercury try the following links:
Mercury in Fish NOW, PBS
Methylmercury US Geological Survey, Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Mercury US Environmental Protection Agency
Fish Consumption Advisories NC DHHS, Public Health, Epidemiology