Recognizing that fish is a source of nutritional benefit but also of contaminants of concern, particularly methylmercury, dioxins, and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked by the European Parliament to assess health risks associated with consumption of farmed and wild-caught fish, including an assessment of the safety of consuming Baltic herring (EFSA, 2005a). EFSA reviewed evidence on the benefits of nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids, in fish; sources of contaminants of concern in seafood; and risks to health from consuming fish and generated exposure scenarios from data on consumption of and contaminants in fish. The conclusions and recommendations of EFSA were published as an opinion on the health risks related to consumption of wild and farmed fish (Source: http://www.efsa.eu.int/science/contam/contam_opinions/1007_en.html).
The report pointed out that fish obtained from the Baltic Sea are likely to contain higher levels of contaminants, particularly dioxins and PCBs, than comparable fish obtained from other sources. For some EU member countries, i.e., Sweden and Finland, there is specific national advice for consumers, particularly girls (due to childbearing potential), about consuming Baltic fish that may be contaminated with dioxins and PCBs. Apart from fish obtained from the Baltic Sea, the EFSA opinion states that there are no consistent differences between wild and farmed fish regarding either safety or nutritional value, and that consumption of fish, especially fish high in EPA/DHA, is beneficial to cardiovascular health and to fetal development.
The report noted that fish is a valuable source of many nutrients, including protein, iodine, selenium, and vitamins A and D. The EFSA statement was further qualified, however, with the advice that vulnerable population groups, such as pregnant women and women of childbearing age, should consider the nutritional benefits of fish weighed against potential risks from contaminants in certain types of fish. The EFSA panel also stated that advice regarding fish consumption should take into account other comparable sources of contaminants, particularly dioxin-like compounds and PCBs, that are present in the fatty components of other animal foods. Pregnant women were advised to consume up to two servings of fish per week as long as certain types of fish, e.g., long-lived predatory fish such as swordfish and tuna, were avoided (for additional information see Cossa et al., 1989; Claisse et al., 2001). Lastly, the EFSA panel recommended development of a consistent and agreed-upon methodology for carrying out quantitative assessments of benefits and risks related to food consumption.