April 28, 2016 — A recent 20-page policy report from the Environmental Working Group included alarming news: According to a study they conducted, “nearly three in 10 of the women had more mercury in their bodies than the EPA says is safe,” and rates were highest among women who ate seafood frequently.
Based on this, they issued a news release with the alarming headline of “U.S. Seafood Advice Could Expose Women And Babies To Too Much Mercury, Not Enough Healthy Fats.”
That sounds like important–and clicky–news, and the media acted accordingly: At least a dozen different news outlets wrote about the study, including high-profile publications like The Washington Post (“Why it’s still so hard to eat fish and avoid mercury”), TIME Magazine (“Canned Tuna Is Too High In Mercury for Pregnant Women: Health Group”), and CNN. (“Study of mercury in fish brings call to strengthen government guidelines”)
Seafood industry fires back hostile response that, well, partially made sense
The seafood industry trade group National Fisheries Institute caught wind of the report and resulting news coverage, and fired back big time, with a news release, “Mercury ‘Study’ Out of Step with Real Science.” They didn’t stop there, turning their ire specifically at TIME Magazine, asking “Seriously….what is wrong with TIME Magazine?”
While it’s debatable whether this miffed tone helps or hurts the trade organization’s public relations effort, NFI does have a point: The news coverage, in general, could have been stronger.
Before we get into what journalists could have done differently, we do want to stress that EWG’s study conclusions–that mercury contamination in fish is more widespread than government agencies acknowledge–very well may be true. It’s just their report doesn’t prove this, certainly not on its own.