Mercury in Tuna Warning & Polluting

Last Editorial Review: 12/12/2003

Background: Among seafood, tuna ranks second only to shrimp in popularity in the US.

Story: The US government plans to warn pregnant women, nursing mothers, young children and women of childbearing age to limit their consumption of tuna because of concerns about mercury poisoning. A draft advisory from the FDA and EPA follows (below).

Congratulations: We congratulate the US government on showing concern about the health of the nation by issuing this warning. There is no doubt that methylmercury is highly toxic and dangerous.

Criticism: The government has eased the regulation of coal-fired power plants, the largest source of mercury pollution that settles in the water and contaminates fish. While the government warns of mercury in tuna, it lets our power plants continue to pollute with mercury.

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Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

FDA Announces Comprehensive Foods Advisory on Methylmercury

The Food Advisory Committee (FAC) of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will meet on December 10-11, 2003 to receive an update regarding the recommendations made during the July 2002 FAC regarding fish consumption and methylmercury. The revisions have resulted in the first unified FDA and EPA revised advisory concerning all fish and shellfish consumption for populations at risk from exposure to high mercury levels: pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who may become pregnant, and young children. In addition, the FAC will review reports from subcommittees: Infant Formula, Contaminants and Natural Toxicants, Dietary Supplements, Additives and Ingredients and Food Biotechnology. The meeting will be held at the Hotel Washington, Pennsylvania Avenue at 15th Street, Washington, D.C. 20004-1009.

In July 2002, FDA's Food Advisory Committee met and made several recommendations to FDA on how to revise its consumer advisory on methylmercury in fish with special concern for pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who may become pregnant, and young children. One of these was for FDA and EPA to coordinate mercury advisories on commercial fish and recreational fish. Additionally, they recommended that the issue of tuna consumption be addressed.

FDA and EPA have been working diligently toward the goal of updating the consumer advisory in response to the recommendations from the Food Advisory Committee. This work has included: conducting ongoing interagency meetings; conducting field assignments which provided additional testing of methylmercury in fish for which there were low sample sizes; sampling 300 cans of tuna; undertaking exposure assessments using these new data; and testing the revised advisory with focus groups. As part of the meeting, FDA is seeking recommendations or concurrence from the committee before finalizing a joint FDA and EPA revised advisory concerning fish and shellfish consumption. The revised advisory now contains information concerning consumption of all fish, including both commercial fish and locally caught fish. Following the Committee's concurrence, FDA will initiate an outreach and educational program early in 2004 for at-risk populations.

This advisory is directed to pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who may become pregnant, and parents of young children. This is because the nervous system of the developing fetus and of young children is most at risk from high methylmercury levels in fish.

Source: FDA Talk Paper issued Dec 10, 2003.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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