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How safe is our seafood?

Our oceans and seas have been polluted over time with a number of contaminants, from litter and plastic waste to an array of man-made chemicals which have caused numerous problems for many wildlife species. So considering these pollutants, how safe is the fish, shellfish and other seafood we eat?

Globally over 1 billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein and nutrients. But though we’re often reminded of the health benefits of eating fish and other seafood, could our polluting habits be compromising the beneficial health effects? In fact the NHS advises pregnant women to limit the amount of oily fish they eat, including salmon and mackerel, to no more than two portions a week due to them containing endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs, which can disrupt the delicate hormone system.

The ECsafeSEAFOOD project

In order to try and find out more about environmental contaminants in seafood and their effects on consumer safety, the European Commission (EC) is currently funding the “ECsafeSEAFOOD” Project.

ECsafeSEAFOOD has a number of objectives, to monitor and assess the presence of environmental contaminants in the marine environment, and measuring the effects of these on human health. The initiative will set up a detailed monitoring scheme to determine the prevalence of selected contaminants, which among others include pharmaceuticals, microplastics, UV filters found in sun-creams – a number of which are EDCs.

You can watch the following video for more information about the ECsafeSEAFOOD Project:

EDCs and pharmaceuticals in seafood

One study recently published as part of the ECsafeSEAFOOD Project measured pharmaceuticals and EDCs in seaweed, bivalves (the family of shellfish which contain mussels) and two species of fish – mullet and flounder. The samples came from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and Norway.

This comes a year after CHEM Trust released the influential briefing “Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: A growing threat to our tap water and wildlifewhich discussed the treats to wildlife from pharmaceuticals. Since CHEM Trust released this report, pharmaceuticals in the environment has been described as an “emerging issue” by the International Conference on Chemicals Management.

The ECsafeSEAFOOD study describes the main sources of pharmaceuticals and EDCs in marine environments as sewage effluents, waste disposal, aquaculture, animal husbandry and horticulture. Results found pharmaceutical compounds in the fish, seaweed and bivalves, with EDCs found in bivalves and fish. This could not only affect the health of wildlife, but also cause problems due to being transferred into our food via seafood.

In the study’s conclusion, the authors note that though the European Community has set maximum residue limits (MRLs) for a variety of these chemicals in foodstuffs of animal origin including seafood species, the list needs to be regularly updated to reflect the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and EDCs in seafood, together with their potential risk.

For more information about the science behind the ECsafeSEAFOOD project, you can watch this video by Euronews:

See our handy Take Action: As a Consumer pages to find out how to reduce your exposure to harmful EDCs.