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Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption (2010)

Background

The 29th Session of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Codex Alimentarius Commission held in Geneva, Switzerland, 3-7 July 2006, requested FAO and WHO to consider holding an FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the health risks associated with methylmercury and dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in fish and the health benefits of fish consumption, based on a recommendation from the 38th session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC).

In order to better address the request from Codex, FAO and WHO first held a small expert group meeting to get advice on these issues and the most appropriate way forward. This expert meeting noted that a large number of national studies and assessments were available and that these could form the basis for further development of assessment models and for the evaluation. However, a quantitative risk-benefit approach may not be possible at the international level, so other options may need to be explored.

FAO and WHO held the Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption 25 to 29 January 2010 at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy. Seventeen experts in nutrition, toxicology, epidemiology, dietary exposure and risk-benefit assessments discussed the risks and the benefits of fish consumption. The tasks of the experts were to assess the health benefits and risks associated with consumption of fish. Based on existing evidence, the main objective was to give advice, targeted at vulnerable population subgroups, on a neutral basis, in order to assist countries and their institutions, policy makers, health authorities, fisheries bodies, public health advisors, etc., to balance the risks and the benefits of fish consumption.

Objectives

The elements that should be considered by the Expert Consultation included:

  • The human health risk of fish consumption related to neurological development and cardiovascular diseases, with focus on methylmercury but also considering the impact of dioxins and dioxin-like PCB’s;
  • The nutritional and health benefits of fish consumption, that may be related to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, immunological disorders, osteoporosis and to the outcome of pregnancy and subsequent neurological and cardiovascular development of infants and children, focusing on long chain n-3 fatty acids, other nutrients contained in fish and considering the interaction between nutrients from fish and nutrients in the background diet;
  • Assessment of risks and benefits;
  • Fish consumption patterns related to region, ethnic groups, culture, traditions, habits, economy, social factors, media and education; and
  • Potential effects related to increased or reduced consumption of fish.

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