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Mercury And Tuna

On March 19, 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency released their joint revised consumer advisory on mercury in fish. The advisory targets women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children. That same month, the FDA also posted a document on their website titled Fish is an Important Part of a Balanced Diet. In a separate document on their website, the FDA states the key parts of the advisory:

"Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. Thus, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

1. Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of
   mercury.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are
   lower in mercury.

• Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light
  tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

• Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned
  light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6
  ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local
   lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average
   meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish
   during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions."

Also on their website, the FDA states that "research shows that most people's fish consumption does not cause a health concern." The American Heart Association also recommends two servings of fish per week.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element in the earth's crust, and therefore is also present in trace amounts in all living organisms. As elemental mercury enters the water, biological processes occur which transform it to its toxic form methyl mercury. This toxic form builds up to higher levels in large, long-lived fish. According to the EPA, "Health problems caused by mercury depend on how much has entered your body, how it entered your body, how long you have been exposed to it, and how your body responds to the mercury."

The FDA has set as their action level 1 ppm of mercury. This level provides a wide margin of safety, as it is ten times the level at which the most sensitive people will experience health problems. In lab tests run between 1990 and 2003 by the FDA, the average level of mercury in canned light tuna is 0.12 ppm, and in albacore 0.35 ppm. Very low in mercury are sardines at an average of 0.02 ppm, herring at 0.04, crab at 0.06, and anchovies at 0.04. Salmon, oysters, clams, shrimp contain less mercury than lab tests are able to detect.

Fish and seafood in general remains a wise choice for a healthy diet.

Finally, a November 2004 study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that mercury levels from fish consumption for women and young children in the U.S. are very low and "not of concern." The CDC found that mercury concentrations in the blood of American women have actually declined over the four-year period of 1999-2002. The CDC report also confirms that no child in the U.S. has mercury levels that are even close to the EPA's reference dose and are not at risk from consuming seafood.


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