START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Seafood & Pregnancy

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Seafood & Pregnancy

Has anyone else been following Environmental Health News’ series Pollution, Poverty, People of Color as if it were the new Mad Men? No? Personally, I can’t get enough. I especially can’t get one article from last month out of my head. It was about how contaminated fish warnings fail to reach the people most at risk.

It’s probably stuck in my mind because I’m pregnant. As I  (s l o w l y)  make my way around my city, day in and day out, I have a hard time not screaming as I watch other pregnant moms eating things I know they should not be eating, and doing things I know they should not be doing (what is with everyone walking into nail salons and willingly breathing that unsafe-for-anyone air?). Do they not know? Or are they just ignoring the warnings?

But fish really surprised me. Even conventional OBs who aren’t particularly attuned to environmental health issues tend to warn their patients not to eat certain very contaminated fish that are known to contain mercury, PCBs, and more. If doctors fail to issue this warning, most baby books and pregnancy websites take up their slack. So what’s Environmental Health News talking about?

Well, seafood isn’t a cut and dried issue. It’s nuanced and complicated. As I wrote in The Conscious Kitchen, rockfish can mean more than sixty different kinds of fish on the Pacific West Coast. There are eighty-two different species of groundfish, and more than forty different species can be called snapper. Which means that warnings about big predator fish like shark, tuna, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel containing elevated levels of mercury might make it to most pregnant people, but the subtler stuff just doesn’t.

People—pregnant or not—tend to be less aware of advisories about local waterways (both fresh and saltwater-like), and about which local seafood might harbor industrial chemicals and pesticides. As the article I cannot get out of my mind states, these are linked to cancer, reproductive effects, and various other health problems. Let’s be honest, these present risks for everyone—not just pregnant women and children.

Local officials do issue warnings, but too often residents either aren’t getting them or choose to ignore them. Sometimes they know about the warnings, but need a cheap source of protein. Or they come from fishing communities and are inclined to eat what they’ve always eaten, whatever the health advisories say. There are even people interviewed in the article who say that if the water looks clean, they assume the fish is safe to eat.

Except it’s not safe. And so the advisories need to be louder and more clear, and there needs to be more education, including about how the contaminants made their way into the air we breathe and the waters we fish. No one should be eating unsafe food, and knowing that it happens more frequently in low-income, minority, or indigenous communities is the kind of thing that keeps you (or is it just me?) up at night. As the article clearly explains, this is an environmental justice issue. If inadequate risk warnings aren’t reaching these communities, states need to try harder. Advisories need to take language barriers into account and, in general, be a lot simpler for everyone to understand and heed.

Here’s hoping Dr. Jeanne Conry, president-elect for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agrees. She’s the winner of the 2012 U.S. EPA Environmental Health Heroes of the Pacific Southwest in the category Children’s Environmental Health and could really help spread the word. Hey, Dr. Conry, if you need help, we’d love to join the crusade.




8 Reasons Not to Eat Tuna
The Effects of Air Pollution on Prenatal Health
Mercury: the Culprit of Mysterious Health Problems

Read more: Eating for Health, Environment, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Pregnancy, , , , , , , ,

By Alexandra Zissu

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Moms Clean Air Force

Moms Clean Air Forceis a community of moms, dads and others fighting for clean air and the health of future generations. Follow them on Twitter @ MomsCAF.


+ add your own
10:06AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

Helpful, thanks

10:03AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

all fish species should be avoided. our oceans are dying. they are polluted. and fish are sea life, not seafood.

1:12AM PST on Nov 20, 2012

no animals for me

4:50PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

11:14AM PDT on Oct 22, 2012

Hi – Quite a few people are confused about this, and as a dietitian with the National Fisheries Institute and expectant mom myself, I’d love to clear the water. First of all, as long as you are eating fish from grocery stores and restaurants, the advice is pretty simple.
Here’s the official scoop from the Food and Drug Administration and Dietary Guidelines:

-For the general population: Eat a variety of fish twice a week, and there are no fish to limit or avoid.

-For women who are or may become pregnant, nursing moms, and young kids: The nutrients in fish are especially important for you, so eat a variety of fish twice a week. Half (6 ounces) of the fish you eat every week can be white albacore tuna. There are four fish to avoid that you probably aren’t eating anyway: shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish.

If you are eating recreational fish caught by family and friends out of lakes and streams, that’s when you need to check local guidance (the topic of the study mentioned in Environmental Health News).

The more we learn about the good things eating fish from the oceans and aquaculture does for your body, the more doctors and dietitians are focusing on the health risks of not eating enough seafood.

For a look at what plenty of seafood looks like in the real-life diet of a registered dietitian (me!) visit my

Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD
National Fisheries Institute

11:57AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

Good article ( and I signed the petition!)...not only is all the pollution a problem, OVER FISHING has wiped out the fish!!!.........we are just going to have to learn how to live off of moon-dust at these rates!...but seriously, no matter what you eat, you must keep yourself updated with knowledge of what you are putting into your body in realtime!..what was safe 2 years ago, may not be now!!..and share that info with people you care about and know!

10:18AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012


3:56AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

very sad state of affairs for US!

1:35AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012


8:40PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

All US food is suspect why stop with the fish?

add your comment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

I'm going tomorrow!

Of course they've been hiding the damage they've been doing. Look how long the tobacco companies li…

Our local farmers' market is now twice a month, 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month, instead of just on…

I'm never surprised with another discovered hidden negative report regarding this company. I just w…


Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.

site feedback


Problem on this page? Briefly let us know what isn't working for you and we'll try to make it right!