Friday, March 19, 2004

Updated Fish Safety Information

U.S. Issues Guidelines on Eating of Some Tuna


Published: March 19, 2004

WASHINGTON, March 18 -- The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency will recommend Friday that pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna or about one meal's worth each week, administration officials said.

Albacore tuna, often sold as canned white tuna, accounts for more than 5 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States, according to the F.D.A. Recent tests have shown that albacore tuna has higher levels of mercury than other kinds of tuna. Mercury is known to affect neurological development of fetuses and young children.

The new guidelines will say that young children and women who are pregnant, nursing or planning to become pregnant can eat up to 12 ounces per week of light tuna, which has less mercury and accounts for about 13 percent of the nation's seafood consumption.

The agencies will continue recommending that those groups limit their intake of shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which can also have high levels of mercury.

Fish that are low in mercury and safe to eat two or three times a week are shrimp, salmon, pollock and catfish, the advisory says.

Mental health advocates often advise people to increase their intake of fish, based upon the belief that certain essential fatty acids can improve symptoms of mood disorders.  See this Medscape article  for background.  Essential fatty acids are nutrients that your body needs, but which it cannot produce by itself.  The omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are thought to be the most important.  Mercury, though, is extremely toxic to the brain.  See the Mercury Policy Project   for more information on this.

Those who wish to obtain the benefits of fish oil, but avoid the mercury risk, might be reassured by the findings of a Consumer's Union report.  The report indicates that they tested 16 brands of fish oil capsules and found that none contained significant amounts of mercury, PCBs, or dioxin.