Polluted Pregnancy

Eesha Pandit

Claim to care about "unborn" children, then actively promote the industries that pollute the environment with toxins that cause serious developmental diseases - it's textbook hypocrisy.

Time for our latest hypocrisy watch. In this installment, we're calling out those who claim to care about pregnant women and their developing fetuses, but, instead of defending the well-being of pregnant women, repeatedly succumb to the deep pockets and heavy hands of big business.

According to Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Environment Trust's Pure Salmon Campaign, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition's (NHMNBC) recent recommendations for fish and seafood consumption for pregnant and breast-feeding women are "misleading" and a "classic example of industry-driven marketing under the cloak of scientific research."

The guidelines, released earlier this month, recommended that pregnant and breast-feeding women should consume at least 12 ounces of fish and seafood weekly for optimal brain development of fetuses, infants and young children. However, these guidelines conflict with current FDA and EPA guidelines.

In 2005, both agencies issued separate warnings advising young children, pregnant women, nursing women and women of childbearing age to avoid consuming swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish because of high mercury levels. The warnings also recommended that those groups consume no more than 12 ounces of fish weekly and eat no more than six ounces of canned albacore tuna weekly.

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Mercury, a highly toxic heavy metal, is particularly dangerous for infants and children, and it can be passed from pregnant women to their fetuses. Consumption of fish is one of the well-established means by which humans are exposed to mercury. Knowing this, why would the NHMNBC support an increase in the advised amount of fish consumption for pregnant and breast-feeding women?

Apparently, the coalition accepted a $60,000 grant from the National Fisheries Institute, a fishing industry trade association, to help fund the research. The coalition, a not-for-profit group with nearly 150 members, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, and the CDC.

In a move that has angered many of these member organizations, the "researchers who developed the report … didn't bother to vet its decidedly contentious findings and advice with the coalition's wider membership before public release," Kavanagh writes.

Claim to care about "unborn" children, then actively promote the industries that pollute the environment with toxins that cause serious developmental diseases – it's textbook hypocrisy.

In the past six years, however, we've become accustomed to such schemes and inconsistency. In late 2003, one month after the President and all his men signed the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban," he also signed EPA legislation that would delay implementing mercury regulations, giving utilities corporations more time to cut their mercury emissions. The change purportedly resulted in more children being exposed to nerve damage and developmental diseases, while giving the corporations and industries and easy out. The cost: the health of women and the safe fetal development.

Then, in April of 2004, President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a bill that creates a separate federal offense if bodily injury or death of a "child in utero" occurs during the commission of certain crimes. He signed this bill claiming that it was in the interest of protecting women and their unborn children, but did not flinch in the following weeks, when he pushed legislation to undercut domestic implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). These self-proclaimed "friends of the fetus" were making it more difficult, to regulate new POPs as and when they are identified and would have allowed the EPA to ignore treaty decisions when evaluating the safety of new POPs. March of Dimes has warned that "high levels of exposure to pesticides may contribute to miscarriage, preterm delivery and birth defects … and may affect development of the fetus' reproductive system."

Last year, a Bush Administration proposal to promote pesticide experimentation upon humans drew harsh criticism from legislators. The proposal, inconsistent with federal law, would have allowed manufacturers to conduct testing of pesticides upon both pregnant women and children.

While conservative, anti-choice activists and lawmakers continue to stress how much they value children and families, their lawmakers are consistently granting immunity to industry and corporations whose policies will endanger those very families. While such pundits and lawmakers emphasize the responsibility of individual pregnant women to ensure the safety of their fetus, often at risk of prosecution, they are giving a free pass to businesses that directly endanger pregnant women and their fetuses.

This time, the "selective repackaging of science, combined with slick marketing to sell more fish to pregnant women and women of childbearing age, show the height of corporate irresponsibility," says Kavanagh, concluding that the report is "one fishy marketing scheme that consumers should throw back."

And if our lawmakers allow such irresponsibility, perhaps we should throw them back as well.

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