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Mercury advisories and household health trade-offs

Shimshack, Jay P. and Ward, Michael B. (2010): Mercury advisories and household health trade-offs.

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Abstract

The conventional economic wisdom is that improving consumer information will enhance welfare. Yet, some scientists speculate that the Food and Drug Administration's prominent 2001 mercury in fish advisory may have harmed public health. Lower mercury intakes reduce neurological toxicity risks. However, since seafood is the predominant dietary source of healthful omega-3 fatty acids, reduced fish consumption may have significant offsetting health impacts. We explore this risk trade-off using a rich panel of household-level seafood consumption data. To control for confounding factors, we use a non-parametric changes-in-changes approach. We find strong evidence that while the advisory reduced mercury loadings, it did so at the expense of substantial reductions in healthful omega-3s. We find this response pattern even for consumers with low fish consumption. Using advisory response patterns as inputs into a prominent risk assessment model, the central estimate is that net benefits from the advisory were negative.

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