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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 1385

Mr BUCHANAN (MCMILLAN, VICTORIA) - My question which is addressed to the Acting Minister for Health concerns the mercury content in fish. What quantity of shark meat would it be necessary for a person to eat before any indications of deleterious effect would be evident? Is there evidence in countries such as Sweden, Japan and so on, where fish consumption is much higher than in Australia, of illness due to the build up of mercury in the human body? Will the Minister please do everything he can to bring about most speedily a correction of the regulation concerning the mercury content in fish so that the valuable fishing industry may get back to normal and so that fishermen will be allowed to return to a trade that has flourished without devastation to human health for 50 years or more?

Dr FORBES (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Immigration) - In relation to the first part of the honourable gentleman's question, I am advised that, based on Japanese studies, at a level of 0.5 parts per million of mercury clinical symptons of toxicity appear at an intake of approximately 21i oz per day. I am advised also that in order to provide safety for vulnerable groups such as high fish consumers and unborn children, it is necessary to apply a safety factor of 20 to this, which reduces the safe intake, at the level of 0.5 parts per million, to one oz per day. In relation to the second part of the honourable gentleman's question, it is a fact that in Japan there have been epidemics of fatal poisoning due to this cause. In relation to the third part of the honourable gentleman's question, as a result of the concern expressed by several Health Ministers, the Director-General of Health, who is the Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council, called a meeting of the Public Health Advisory Committee as recently as 6th September, last Wednesday week, to consider the available evidence in relation to this matter. As the honourable member will be aware, after considering all the scientific evidence available on this question, the Committee reaffirmed the previous position of the Council. This will now go to the full meeting of the Council in November. I appreciate the concern expressed by the honourable gentleman, which I share but apart from the health and scientific aspect, 1 do not think I can add anything further to what my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry said, I think, on Tuesday.

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