Risk-Benefit Analysis of Seafood Consumption: A Review
Seafood, defined here as marine and freshwater fish and shellfish, is recognized as a healthy food choice because it is a low-fat protein source that provides long-chain omega-3 fatty acids important for early development along with eye and heart health. However, seafood is also known to contain certain contaminants, such as methylmercury and persistent organic pollutants, which can have harmful effects on human health and development. In order to limit exposure to contaminants while maximizing the benefits of seafood consumption, a number of quantitative and qualitative risk-benefit analyses have been conducted for seafood consumption. This review paper provides a brief background on risk-benefit analysis of foods, followed by a discussion of the risks and benefits associated with fish consumption. Next, risk-benefit analyses are reviewed in an historical context. While risk-benefit analysis consists of three main elements (that is, assessment, management, and communication), this review will primarily focus on risk-benefit assessments. Overall, most studies have found that the benefits far outweigh the risks among the general population, especially when a variety of fish is consumed at least twice per week. However, for certain populations (for example, pregnant women and young children) a more targeted approach is warranted in order to ensure that these groups consume fish that are low in contaminants but high in omega-3 fatty acids. The potentially harmful unintended consequences of risk-benefit communication on the general population and certain groups are also discussed.
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