The Welfare Value of FDA’s Mercury-in-Fish Advisory: A Dynamic Reanalysis

Christoph Rheinberger, and James K. Hammitt


Assessing the welfare impact of consumer health advisories is a thorny task. Recently, Shimshack and Ward (2010) studied how U.S. households responded to FDA’s 2001 mercury-in-fish advisory. They found that the average at-risk household reduced fish consumption by 21%, resulting in a 17%-reduction in mercury exposure at the cost of a 21%-reduction in cardioprotective omega-3 fatty acids. Based on a static assessment of the health costs and benefits Shimshack and Ward concluded that the advisory policy resulted in an overall consumer welfare loss. In this note, we propose a dynamic assessment that links the long-term cardiovascular health effects of the advisory to life-cycle consumption. We find that under reasonable assumptions the welfare loss might be much larger than suggested. Our analysis highlights the importance of accounting for dynamic effects when evaluating persistent changes in exposure to environmental health risks.


Food safety; mercury; fatty acids; policy analysis; excess lifetime risk;

JEL codes

  • D18: Consumer Protection
  • D61: Allocative Efficiency • Cost–Benefit Analysis
  • I18: Government Policy • Regulation • Public Health
  • J17: Value of Life • Forgone Income


James K. Hammitt, and Christoph Rheinberger, The Welfare Value of FDA’s Mercury-in-Fish Advisory: A Dynamic Reanalysis, April 2013.

See also

Published in

Journal of Health Economics, vol. 37, 2014, pp. 113–122