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Too Much Mercury Still in Canned Tuna — Consumers Beware


High levels of mercury continue to be found in canned tuna and pose health threats to pregnant women and children.

Consumer Reports reported that new tests of 42 samples of tuna from cans and pouches confirmed that white albacore tuna contained much more mercury than light tuna. “If a woman ate two ounces of any of the samples we tested (one serving is 2.5 ounces), she would exceed the daily mercury intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe,” said Consumer Reports. The study also found that eating only two servings (5 ounces) of the light tuna would also exceed the government limit on mercury levels.

Canned tuna, especially white, tends to be high in mercury, and younger women and children should limit how much they eat,” says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy, at Consumers Union, a nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “As a precaution, pregnant women should avoid tuna entirely.”

Pregnant women and young children who are exposed to even low levels of mercury can develop subtle impairments in hearing, hand-eye coordination and learning abilities. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause central nervous system damage, hearing loss and vision problems. The EPA and the FDA advise high risk groups, which include pregnant women and young children to limit their consumption of canned tuna to no more than 12 ounces of light tuna and 6 ounces of albacore tuna a week.

Even with all of the mounting evidence about high mercury levels in tuna, the FDA still has not issued a warning to consumers about the dangerous levels of mercury in canned light tuna and albacore. When approached by Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, about why the FDA has failed to issue such a warning, the FDA spokesman indicated that, “The agency had already taken the spike into account when formulating its mercury advice.”

“The FDA should strengthen its current guidance and advise pregnant women to avoid tuna altogether, especially given the uncertainties about the impact of occasional fetal exposure to high mercury levels,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “The FDA should also continue to test for mercury across the spectrum of fish and seafood in the marketplace in order to provide consumers with adequate information on the mercury levels of all fish.”

Other fish that federal agencies have found to contain high levels are mercury and should be avoided by children and pregnant women are king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish.

“The heavy metal accumulates in tuna and other fish in an especially toxic form, methylmercury, which comes from mercury released by coal-fired power plants and other industrial or natural resources, such as volcanoes,” according  to recent studies by Consumer Reports. “Fortunately, it’s easy to choose lower- mercury fish that are also rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids,” says Dr. Rangan, “That’s especially important for women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children, because fetuses and youngsters are still developing their nervous systems and are therefore at particular risk from methylmercury’s neurotoxic effects.”

Health experts advise eating Alaskan salmon, clams, shrimp and tilapia which have been shown time and time again to have low levels of mercury and are healthy for everyone to eat.

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