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Saturday, August 22, 2009

That tasty looking fresh water fish could be out to kill you

by Larry Geller

A nationwide study of mercury contamination in fish released on Wednesday found this dismal result:

Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country…

About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.

That’s bad news for fish lovers. The report, Data on Mercury in Water, Bed Sediment, and Fish from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005 can be download from the US Geological Survey website.

The mercury comes from a variety of sources, including coal-fired power plants and mining. Yes, there are natural sources, but the findings demonstrate that concentrations of mercury have increased over pre-industrial times. Here’s a handout from the USGS that explains this.

Fish data is here (Excel file). Smallmouth Bass and Blackchin tilapia caught on Oahu were included in the study. I’m not competent to evaluate the numbers, but the concentration of mercury appeared to be among the lowest in the table if I understand it correctly.

Of course, the fish we purchase largely comes from elsewhere, and the numbers for certain regions of the country are many multiples of the Hawaii data.

Additionally, the USGS report covers fish caught in the USA only. We have no idea what contaminants might be in imported fish unless they have been specifically tested. Even if they are, standing at the fish counter at Don Quijote or even at Whole Foods, we have nothing to tell us what’s in that fish we are contemplating buying for tonight’s dinner.

Bon appétit.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tracking recalls, a pain, but necessary?

by Larry Geller

Last night we went to Kahala to see the movie Food, Inc. and then to do a little shopping at Whole Foods. Let me tell you, after watching that documentary, it was hard to decide whether or not to buy that piece of chicken we were thinking of for dinner later in the week.

The FDA is not protecting us against the contamination that appears to be rampant in modern American industrialized agriculture. The movie makes that clear.

That’s another article, though. Today I was wondering what the FDA is doing for us exactly, after I was sent a link to a story on an FDA recall of sanitizing products. It seems this stuff you might put on your hands to kill the germs (and products to put on a wound) actually seems to contain germs itself (AP, US Marshals seize sanitizer for bacteria problems, 8/2/2009). The US marshals were called in, according to the report, because the company refused to promptly destroy the products. (More here. The company’s website is here, and although I did not search everywhere on it, I didn’t see the recall information there.)

Ok, it seems the FDA is not totally moribund.

I decided to check out what they have been up to. It turns out that the list of recalls is extensive and a bit scary.

Here is a list of “Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts” on the FDA website. If you are interested in tracking them, they provide a way to get email alerts. I created an RSS feed for the page, which is this. Put the feed in your newsreader if you prefer to get alerts that way.

What’s there? Right now I see cilantro contaminated with salmonella, Chai Tea recalled, some medical devices, raisins and nutritional supplements recalled, “male enhancement products” recalled, more cilantro recalled (it looks like a bad month for cilantro) and lots more.

Major brands and some recognizable items are on the list. For example, General Mills’ 'Nut Lovers' flavor of Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters product (possible salmonella).

Is all this stuff getting pulled from the shelves? Of course not.

Who has all the time to check it out? That’s where a newsreader (also called an “aggregator”) comes in. You can follow it if you like. Or get the salmonella, up to you.

Another source of recall information is here, though it’s less useful. It’s a blog devoted to recalls.

Costco posts recalls on a bulletin board, but who goes there to read it?

Sorry to have spoiled your lunch. Buy local, stay safe. The Food, Inc. movie explains why.

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