There are four things I would like to share with you all about the Associated Press
I was pleased at the speed and professionalism with which it corrected its mistakes just 2 weeks ago.
- It has dubbed itself "the essential global news network." And essentially it's just what it says it is. Half of the world's population gets some of its news from the AP everyday (let that statistic sink in for a minute, it makes the audience for the Super Bowl look like a gathering at the local VFW hall.)
- Lately I have seen more and more AP writers taking the lazy rout and simply regurgitating environmental activist rhetoric in their stories. This is a disturbing trend.
- A personal message to AP- to paraphrase Shakespeare; uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Never forget the bigger and better you are the more responsibility you have to get it right.
So we find ourselves again asking AP to, at the very least, better police its own reporters.
Its latest article
about efforts to create a treaty on mercury reduction took the activist's talking points hook line and sinker, broadly mischaracterizing the mercy debate and erroneously using seafood as a poster child for an environmental pollution issue that is simply not ours.
James Wright from Seafood Business put it well when he wrote, "It would be a relief to see world leaders not only recognize the source of mercury pollution and regulate it, but to bang the drum about the biggest misconception about mercury, which is that seafood is dangerous."
While James Wright clearly understands what is at issue here, our friends at the Associated Press apparently need more education.
Our latest letter to the AP follows:
February 19, 2009
Dear Ms. Kennedy,
I am writing to draw your attention to some violations of basic journalism standards found in Tom Maliti's February 18th report on the gathering of environmental ministers in Nairobi, Kenya.
It is important to note, as a precursor, that the National Fisheries Institute supports efforts for a cleaner environment and work to remove mercury pollution from the atmosphere. We have no stake in arguments made by global chemical conglomerates, mining operations and or entities that operate coal-fired power plants. This letter in no way represents anything other than our fervent interest in insuring that reporting about seafood is fair, accurate and objective.
Maliti's reporting on this issue and his use of seafood, particularly tuna, as a recurring example of the effects of mercury pollution is erroneous. In his second paragraph he notes that mercury enters the environment and "much settles in the oceans where it enters the food chain and is concentrated in predatory fish like tuna." The majority of the mercury found in the oceans is naturally occurring. It comes primarily from underwater volcanoes. These mercury levels have remained steady for decades if not centuries, largely unaffected by pollution. In fact, in a court case, mentioned in paragraph 10, the level of naturally occurring mercury in the oceans was estimated at 95%. Internal waterways, lakes and streams for example, have seen the type of ebb and flow of mercury levels that Maliti suggests is caused by pollution but the oceans have not. Maliti's characterization is a misguided overstatement.
Also in the second paragraph Maliti chooses to highlight tuna as a species where readers might find high concentrations of mercury. While it is a large predatory fish, species like shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel are far better examples of fish with elevated levels of mercury. In fact, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set 1.0ppm as a level of mercury in seafood without concern
(and even that includes a 1,000% built-in safety factor). FDA's own tests show canned light tuna with an average of 0.1 ppm and canned albacore with an average of 0.3 ppm.
Environmental activists have long sought to exaggerate and promote the idea that canned tuna contains potentially high levels of mercury in order to forward their own agenda with a strategy that suggests efforts at removing mercury from the atmosphere have a popular dietary tie. It would appear Maliti has adopted their rhetoric without doing the proper research.
In the third paragraph he writes, "children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to poisoning by toxic metal, which can cause birth defects, brain damage and peeling skin." Children and fetuses can be harmed by ingestion of mercury via industrial accidents, chemical spills and or pollution but to suggest there is evidence that they are at risk from a mother's prenatal consumption of the trace amount of methylmercury found in commercial seafood flies in the face of the latest science. In fact, a new peer-reviewed FDA draft report
released on January 21st finds the quantifiable net outcomes from fish consumption on brain/verbal development of children was -- 99.9 percent "modest benefit"; 0.1 percent "modest risk." Furthermore, the FDA reports pregnant women only eat approximately 1.89oz of seafood a week, far below the 12oz recommended.
For more on the FDA's latest research into this issue I encourage your staff to contact the independent reviewers
of the FDA report; researchers at such institutions as Harvard School of Public Health, University of Washington School of Public Health or the Department of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Children's Hospital and Research Center at Oakland.
In paragraph 10 Maliti again uses tuna as an example but only partially explains the FDA's seafood consumption advice. He mentions the advice to limit tuna consumption but fails to note that the suggestion comes as an addendum to the advisory's proposition that pregnant women avoid shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel altogether.
Still in paragraph 10 he reports that "California authorities have been locked in a five-year legal battle to force tuna companies to paste warning labels on their product." This is simply inaccurate. The state of California did sue major U.S. tuna canners and asked the courts to order a warning label placed on tuna cans. The state lost that case. The simple, reportable fact is that the state lost that case. The state has appealed its loss but is now no longer asking for labels on tuna cans (as recently as January 27th) but simply for signage in stores.
In paragraph 11 Maliti suggests that "despite the warnings, there's often little public knowledge of the dangers of mercury in seafood." Throughout his reporting he has used ocean-going seafood as his example, tuna. However, he does not report or does not know that "warnings" for mercury in seafood come from the EPA and refer only to fish found in internal waterways like lakes and streams-non commercial seafood. What's more, the federal FDA/EPA guidance on seafood consumption is merely advice for one very sensitive subpopulation; pregnant or breastfeeding women, women who may become pregnant or small children, and is not designed as a general consumption warning.
Still in paragraph 11 Maliti negligently mixes his ocean-going commercial seafood examples with a mercury warning illustration that has absolutely nothing to do with commercial seafood whatsoever. Maliti describes food bank distribution of fish
in Idaho and the state's Department of Health and Welfare advisory. For clarity the fish and its distribution was part of a Department of Fish and Game program. The fish were found in local lakes and were not commercial seafood. They were subject to warnings based on internal waterway pollution. To suggest a charitable food distribution program had endangered children through distribution of commercial seafood is patently false.
It would appear that your reporter has taken environmentalist-fed rhetoric and melded it with inadequately researched facts that homogenize distinctly different seafood populations in an effort to make an environmental health story one of poorly executed nutrition education. With this knowledge and background I ask that you review Maliti's work to ensure that the Associated Press stands behind his sourcing as sound and objective, as well as correct the mistakes (both overt and by omission) described herein.
Thank you for your consideration.
National Fisheries Institute
cc: John Daniszewski
International News Managing Editor