National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies to examine relationships between benefits and risks associated with seafood consumption to help consumers make informed choices. The expert committee was asked to prioritize the potential for adverse health effects from both naturally occurring and introduced toxicants in seafood, assess evidence on availability of specific nutrients in seafood compared to other food sources, determine the impact of modifying food choices to reduce intake of naturally occurring and introduced toxicants on nutrient intake and nutritional status within the US population, develop a decision path for US consumers to weigh their seafood choices to obtain nutritional benefits balanced against exposure risks, and identify data gaps and recommend future research.

The committee concentrated primarily on seafood derived from marine (saltwater) sources and included freshwater fisheries when appropriate to the discussion. Further, the committee recognized that these sources vary greatly in their level of contamination depending on local conditions, and that individual states have issued a large number of advisories based on assessment of local conditions. Although the committee was not asked to consider questions or make recommendations about environmental concerns related to seafood, it recognizes that the impact of changes in seafood production, harvesting, and processing have important environmental consequences.

To address the task of assessing benefit-risk trade-offs, the committee took a three-step approach. The steps that framed this analytical approach were: (1) analysis and balancing of the benefits and risks (including attention to characteristics that distinguish target populations as well as substitution predictions); (2) analysis of consumer perceptions and decision-making (understanding decision contexts and their variability, and assessing consumers’ behavior regarding how they perceive and make choices); and (3) design and evaluation of the decision support program itself (including format and structure of information, media, and combination of communication products and processes). The aim of the analysis in step 1 is to assess the overall effect of seafood selections rather than the assessment of reduction in a specific risk or enhancement of a specific benefit.


The scientific assessment and balancing of the benefits and risks associated with seafood consumption is a complex task. Diverse evidence, of varying levels of completeness and uncertainty, on different types of benefits and risks must be combined to carry out the assessment required as a first step in designing consumer guidance. In light of the uncertainty in the available

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