FSA contamination advice ignored

| Post published on May 29, 2015
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Pregnant women could be jeopardising their unborn children according to a nationwide survey of restaurants, published today. It reveals a total ignorance of Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice for pregnant women not to eat certain species of mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury is highly poisonous and can damage the kidney, heart and central nervous system, especially in developing and unborn children. The health charity Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation (VVF) telephoned restaurants serving mercury-contaminated swordfish to ask whether there was anything on their menu which a pregnant woman should not eat. Of the 24 restaurants surveyed not a single one mentioned swordfish as a food for concern. However, the FSA advises that pregnant women, women who intend to become pregnant, infants and children under 16 years of age should avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin entirely. It also says that pregnant women should limit their consumption of tuna. The survey included 16 Harry Ramsden’s restaurants across the country which serve chargrilled swordfish steak. Managers at 12 of these identified some items pregnant women should avoid (commonly shellfish and soft cheese), but none highlighted fish as being potentially dangerous. One store commented, “We’ve had no health warnings or no health issues on anything”, whilst four others inaccurately reported that everything on their menu was safe for pregnant women to eat. Harry Ramsden’s head office customer services also failed to report the FSA advice that pregnant women should avoid swordfish. The eight independent fish restaurants surveyed were more cautious, with two recommending that advice was best sought from a doctor. However, once again, there was no mention of the potential harm to unborn children from eating fish contaminated with mercury. Charlie Powell, VVF Health Campaigner says “The survey demonstrates that FSA advice on high levels of mercury in fish is virtually unknown. And people are also not aware that fish is contaminated with other deadly poisons such as PCBs and dioxins. Although we are officially encouraged to eat fish, research shows that it is not a necessary part of a healthy diet.” The VVF have published a fully referenced, 30-page scientific report, Fishing for Facts, which challenges the claim that fish is essential for good health and explains how the Government’s public health strategy of promoting fish has been a failure. For further information, contact Charlie Powell, Health Campaigner, or Laura Scott, Senior Nutritionist on 0117 970 5190. Notes for Editors: 1. On the 9/10/03 and 10/10/03, the following question was posed by telephone to 24 restaurants serving swordfish (or in two cases, marlin): [i]”My wife is planning to eat at your restaurant later and as she’s recently pregnant I wonder if you could check with the manager as to whether there is anything on your menu that she shouldn’t eat?”.[/i] 2. The following restaurants were surveyed: Harry Ramsden’s branches: Belfast Great Yarmouth Blackpool Guiseley Bournemouth Liverpool Brighton Manchester Bristol Merry Hill Cardiff Nottingham Gateshead Southampton Glasgow Thurrock (16) Harry Ramsden’s head office customer service (01525 878 450) was also surveyed. Independent fish restaurants: Fish!, Borough, London Fishworks, Christchurch Fishworks, Bath Le Monde, Bristol Fishworks, Bristol Storm Fish, Poole Fishworks, Chiswick Zilli Fish Too, London (8) 3. A detailed list of responses, including contemporaneous notes from conversations, is available by e-mail (contact Charlie Powell or Laura Scott on 0117 970 5190). 4. For details of the Food Standard Agency’s advice on eating shark, swordfish and marlin: www.food.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/62503 For details of FSA advice on eating tuna: www.foodstandards.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/tuna_mercury 5. The Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation (VVF) is a campaigning health charity that promotes human health through the adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets. The VVF bases its campaigns on the mounting scientific research which demonstrates the health advantages of animal-free diets.

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
I joined Viva! as a health campaigner in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. My scientific training helped me research and write numerous reports, guides and fact sheets for Viva! including Meat the Truth, Fish-Free for Life, One in Nine (breast cancer and diet) and the substantial report on the detrimental health effects of consuming dairy; White Lies. This accompanied Viva!’s report The Dark Side of Dairy which spelt out the inherent cruelty of dairy farming. We were the first UK group to take on the dairy industry in this way, and many of our supporters go vegan after reading these reports.

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