Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Health claims for eating fish causing harm -- study
Sardines are cooked at a restaurant near the beach of Malaga, southern Spain, May 13, 2008. (REUTERS/Jon Nazca/Files)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Claims about the human health benefits of eating more fish may be causing more environmental and social harm than good, according to a Canadian study published on Tuesday.
The health claims appear to be overblown, and many of the studies making them ignore the pressure increased consumption puts on the dwindling global fish stocks, according to the article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
"Governments and industry tell consumers to eat more fish because it is healthy... but where do we get these fish?" asked Rashid Sumaila, of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Economics Research Unit.
With the collapse of many fish stocks near the United States, Europe and Japan, the pressure is now on developing countries to allow increased foreign access to their shores or to export the catch of local fishermen.
"In either case, the local markets of developing countries, where basic nutrition and health are challenges, are deprived of an important source of protein for the sake of the developed world, whose major problems are overnutrition and physical inactivity," the researchers wrote.
The report was prepared jointly by ocean and medical researchers, and coauthor by prominent Canadian writer and environmentalist Farley Mowat.
The researchers said while there are studies that indicate a benefit of consuming omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, there are also studies that indicate the benefits are minimal and fish eaters already tend to lead healthier lifestyles.
"In contrast to the uncertainty over the value of omega-3 in fish oils in the scientific literature, there is little doubt about the gravity of the fisheries crisis and the prospect of ongoing collapses of the fish stocks," the researcher wrote.
The article said there are also alternatives in the ocean to fish oils for omega-3 fatty acids, such as algae and plants, but warns more clinical study is needed before advocating their widespread use.
The researchers also discount expanding aquaculture because for some fish species, such as salmon, their high protein feed requires requires between 2.5 and 5 kilograms of fish for every kilogram the farm eventually produces.