Monday, July 24, 2006

STATS on PCBs in salmon: The media, activists, and others are wrong again

STATS is a non-profit, non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) that provides perspective on the use and abuse of science and statistics in the media. Its latest assessment on the risk of PCBs in farmed salmon shows that the media, activists, and others are, once again, just plain wrong.

Here is the introductory STATS article. The entire report can be found here.

The evidence in favor of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout, keeps on mounting. On July 10, the Archives of Opthalmology published a new study showing evidence that these acids reduced the risk of macular degeneration. The association isn't backed by clear evidence of a causal mechanism, but it builds on earlier research which found similar correlations. As the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported, "if you are still balancing the risks of and benefits of eating fish, stop. There is no contest."

And then the very next day, the PI sort of backtracked by warning that the risk of cancer from PCBs in salmon needed to be taken into account:

" there is another side to this story. As we've reported when we took on the matter of contaminants in salmon here, the calculus for any individual consumer needs to be, well, individual."

"For example, cancer tends to get my people, so PCBs in salmon are something to be concerned about because PCBs promote cancer. My wife's forebears, on the other hand, tend to kick the bucket while clutching their hearts. So the dilemma for us is: how can she get the omega 3s -- "W-D 40 for the brain," according to this wide-ranging and worthwhile what-you-should-eat piece in yesterday's Vancouver Sun -- while I avoid the PCBs? "

Click on "here" and you are taken right back to the study that launched a global health scare: Hites et al. And it's not just the Seattle Post Intelligencer. The New York Times Dining Section warned readersin March that "studies have shown that salmon farms can pollute the waters around them with their waste and the fish can contain dangerous levels of contaminants like PCB's and dioxin."

"Consumer Reports' August issue also advises readers to buy wild Alaskan salmon because farmed salmon may contain higher levels of PCBs. Actually, a brace of studies have shown the opposite to be true - not that it matters either way, the levels being so low in both wild and farmed fish, and radically diminished after cooking and removing the skin. "

In fact, even if you accept the worst-case scenario of the fish-scare mongers, the U.S. public is at much, much greater risk for injury and death from falling television sets. Really. Which, when added to what the media missed when they covered the publication of Hites et al. two years ago, is another reason to consider the sight-enhancing benefits of eating salmon.

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