The agencies published last week a color-coded chart of more than 60 fish divided into three categories, including the “best” and “good” fish to enjoy, as well as those to avoid due to the risk of high mercury levels.
All three lists were longer than those provided by the agencies in previous draft guidance issued in June 2014, which largely served as the foundation for this “final advice,” FDA acknowledged in a statement. Specifically, the government added 18 fish to the list deemed “good” – meaning safe to eat one serving of per week. It also recommended a significantly longer list of fist that were “best” to eat, and added marlin, orange roughy and bigeye tuna to the list to avoid – bringing the total to seven.
The chart also includes images of serving sizes, which has been a point of confusion for some consumers, according to nutritionists. These picture should drive home the point that Americans who eat animal products should eat 8 to 12-ounces of fish per week. This is a subtle but important difference from guidance issued in 2004, which said consumers should eat up to 12 ounces a week. The prior phrasing likely scared consumers away from seafood by giving them the idea that eating any fish was risky.
Encouraging consumption at point of sale
The colorful chart and serving size pictures, on the other hand, are “designed to make it clear and easy to read for display at point of sale, doctors’ offices and elsewhere,” FDA says in a Federal Register notice Jan. 19. It adds in a same day statement that it also will create a consumer education campaign “working with a wide array of public and private partners featuring new advice.”
This last part is especially encouraging to manufacturers of easy to prepare fish products, including Jacqueline Claudia, CEO and co-founder of LoveTheWild, which makes ready-to-cook seafood kits.
“We find this very exciting! For year, the data has shown that the benefits to mothers and children of eating seafood far outweighs the risks,” Claudia told FoodNavigator-USA. “Simultaneously, better regulation, oversight and environmental protection have made it easier than ever to find clean safe fish to eat. These guidelines recognize both of those things. Now eating fish will be reinforced in the pediatrician’s office, and we hope that gives folks the encouragement they need to experiment with fish.”
Barriers to consuming fish
Fish consumption data shows that Americans could use all the encouragement they could get.
“Analysis of fish consumption data found that 50% of pregnant women surveyed ate fewer than 2 ounces a week, far less than the amount recommended,” according to FDA.
This shortfall is due to a variety of reasons, some of which LoveTheWild directly addresses, Claudia said.
“There are significant barriers to eating fish, that are holding back consumption in the US,” she explained. “People are intimidated. Fish is thought to be expensive and hard to cook, and news coverage on seafood sustainability can be scary and confusing. Hopefully, this guidance will relieve some of the health concerns people have about eating fish, and products like ours that focus on ease of use and transparency will give them the confidence to give seafood at home a try.”