WASHINGTON (AFP) — Pregnant women should eat more fish, a maternal nutrition group said Thursday, arguing that the benefits outweighed the concerns about the risks posed by trace amounts of mercury.
"The debate about mercury in fish and an FDA/EPA advisory have created confusion for pregnant women, causing a reduction in their fish consumption," said the group of obstetricians and nutritionists.
"This leads to inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids resulting in risks to their health and the health of their children," it added in a joint statement with the National Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB).
National data had shown that 90 percent of women were consuming less than the recommended amount of fish, it said.
And the group recommended that women who want to become pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should eat a minimum of 12 ounces per week of ocean fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel.
This would promote "optimal cognitive and motor skill development in their children and to reduce pre-term labor and post-partum depression."
"Eating adequate amounts of fish during pregnancy is a nutritional and public health issue," said Judy Meehan, the coalition's executive director.
But other experts hit back at the coalition's recommendations which fly in the face of the current advice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"It's misleading to urge pregnant women to eat more fish without mentioning the documented public health risks associated with fish or how consuming more seafood is diminishing the world's fisheries stocks," said Gerald Leape, vice-president of the National Environmental Trust.
He argued that farmed fish often contained antibiotics, colorants and pesticides.
"Fish are not the only source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant women can eat eggs, flax, nuts and kiwi fruits and still receive high concentrations of omega-3s without worrying about possible contaminants."
And The Mercury Policy Project accused the HMHB Coalition of "throwing the baby out with the bath water" by urging women to eat more than 12 ounces of fish a week, "without mention of the need to avoid mercury-contaminated fish."
"This new conflicting advice is sure to further confuse the public and intentionally throws a monkey wrench into the risk communication message that the FDA has developed, tested, revised and finalized," said the project's director Michael Bender.
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