Balancing Benefits and Risks

From its review of consumption, benefits, and risks, the committee recommends that:

Recommendation 1: Dietary advice to the general population from federal agencies should emphasize that seafood is a component of a healthy diet, particularly as it can displace other protein sources higher in saturated fat. Seafood can favorably substitute for other high biologic value protein sources while often improving the overall nutrient profile of the diet.

Recommendation 2: Although advice from federal agencies should also support inclusion of seafood in the diets of pregnant females or those who may become pregnant, any consumption advice should stay within federal advisories for specific seafood types and state advisories for locally caught fish.

Recommendation 3: Appropriate federal agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], the US Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], and the Food and Drug Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services [FDA]) should increase monitoring of methylmercury and persistent organic pollutants in seafood and make the resulting information readily available to the general public. Along with this information, these agencies should develop better recommendations to the public about levels of pollutants that may present a risk to specific population subgroups.

Recommendation 4: Changes in the seafood supply (source and type of seafood) must be accounted for—there is inconsistency in sampling and analysis methodology used for nutrients and contaminant data that are published by state and federal agencies. Analytical data is not consistently revised, with separate data values presented for wild-caught, domestic, and imported products.

Drawing on these recommendations and its benefit-risk assessment protocol, the committee identified four population groups for which the data support subgroup-specific conclusions. In the committee’s judgement, the variables that distinguish between these populations facing different benefit-risk balances based on existing evidence are (1) age, (2) gender, (3) pregnancy or possibility of becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding, and (4) risk of coronary heart disease, although the evidence for a benefit to adult males and females who are at risk for coronary heart disease is not sufficient to warrant inclusion as a separate group within the decision-making framework. The groups and appropriate guidance are listed in Box S-1 below.

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