As the Institute of Medicine announces the release of a new report on Oct.17, Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks, advocates are questioning the process that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) used in selecting committee members. At the beginning of the process, MPP and other advocates wrote a letter expressing concerns over the selection of a consumer representative who had close ties with food producing companies. Advocates also met with IOM, and suggested that the IOM committee was unbalanced, pointing out that all but one member of the Committee was a nutritionist and that the overall emphasis of the Committee work focus on nutritional benefits rather than the risk of exposure to toxins like mercury.
Since then, it has come to light (see pages 11 & 12 of the report) that the one scientist on the committee with experience in reviewing health effects of mercury had published a report, two months before being appointed to the NAS committee, that was funded by the US Tuna Foundation and the National Food Processors Association Research Foundation. In the study for the fishing industry, this scientist concluded that pregnant women who reduced fish consumption instead of substituting low-mercury fish for high-mercury species would be doing more harm than good for their developing fetus. The study appeared in the academic literature, complete with disclosure of its funding sources, months after the Committee’s work got underway.