NGO mercury objection
23 April 2013. The bulky opinion on mercury released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last December has drawn fire from several environmental groups. They appeal to Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle to put the opinion “on hold” until the problems in the opinion have been settled.
One key problem that has triggered the NGO reaction is that EFSA considers methylmercury toxicity relevant only if it exceeds the benefits associated with seafood intake. Thus, brain drain due to mercury is not regarded as problematic by EFSA, as long as it is counterbalanced by nutrients in seafood. But this approach dramatically deviates from risk assessment practices used in the past. The letter also says that “the idea that benefit/risk ratios can be determined precisely enough to titrate risks against benefits in this manner is dubious.”
Another problem is that “benefits and risks are distributed differently, and the ratio of benefit to risk differs widely for different individuals.” This means that people who eat, say, mercury-laden tuna will not have the same risk-benefit profile as those more fortunate subjects who prefer salmon, mackerel, sardines, and shrimp that are nutritious, but low in mercury.
The NGOs also note that a previous EFSA opinion from 2004 recommended that methylmercury exposures “be minimised”, while the new opinion that relies on better documentation only recommends a 20% reduction of the existing WHO exposure limit, a trivial change that relies on administrative procedures for calculating exposure limits and not on the combined evidence from recent research. As previously suggested, EFSA has to return to the drawing board.
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