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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Mercury in some canned light tuna may be risky
By David Liu Ph.D.
Jun 7, 2006, 09:26

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Pregnant women should completely avoid eating canned light tuna because it may contain mercury at a level that might harm the f etuses, suggests a new report released June 6.

The suggestion, based on a new analysis of new data from the government, contradicts the government’s recommendation that pregnant women and other susceptible groups eat limited amounts of canned light tuna or even white tuna weekly.

Canned light tuna was assumed to contain a level of mercury lower enough to be safe for pregnant women to eat. To a large part, such an assumption is correct. But the report found 6 percent of the light tuna samples tested actually contained at least as much mercury - in some cases more than twice as much - as the average in white tuna or albacore.

The magazine explains that the higher-than-expected amount of mercury in light tuna may result from the misuse of yellowfin in the cans, which tends to carry high mercury than skipjack, the type that is supposed to be used in the cans labeled as light.

The Food and Dr ug Administration has apparently been aware of high concentrations of mercury in certain percentage of canned light tuna, but chosen not to advise consumers against its consumption, presumably because the agency believe its risk is not significant.

"If you eat a single can of something that's a little higher than the average, it's not going to do any acute harm," David Acheson, MD, the chief me dical officer at the agency's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, told the magazine when asked about the risk of mercury from light tuna. It is unknown how he commented on the potential chronic impact of mercury in the canned light tuna.

"We are not aware of any science that would indicate that having an occasional meal at that level would cause any harm, and if that science is out there, I would love to see it," Acheson said of canned light tuna, quoted by WebMD. However, The FDA does not seem to recommend pregnant women and other vulnerable groups of people to eat the fish with lower mercury "occasionally". Rather it suggests use of the low mercury f ish on a weekly basis.

In an advisory, which sounds much like a promotion of se afood consumption, issued in 2004, the FDA recommends women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, n ursing mothers, and young children eat 12 ounces per week of a variety of f ish with low amounts of mercury including five ounces per week of canned light tuna and other sorts of f ish. Among these 12 ounces, the agency also suggests they may eat up to 6 ounces per week of white tuna or albacore which is known to have a much higher mercury level.

In response to many inquires triggered apparently by the report, The FDA rushed out a statement June 6 to uphold the 2004 fish consumption advisory without any update saying "the advice contained in the 2004 advisory remains current and that F DA and E PA stand behind it."

The high mercury levels in canned tuna have drawn attention for years from a well-respected organization known as E nvironmental Working Group. According to an analysis of data from the government conducted in 2003 by the group, if women follow FDA's advice on "safe" levels of f ish consumption including eating white tuna, 74 percent of American women will have a risky level of mercury in their blood.

The government's advice on s eafood consumption for pregnant women could expose one in four newborns to elevated mercury levels, according to EWG, which said 630,000 babies are already born in the U.S. each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. It is unknown how much the mercury from canned light tuna attributes to the elevated mercury in the blood of the said group.

Mercury in canned light tuna and other fish and seafood come from both nature and industrial pollution. Fish is believed to be one of the major sources for humans to get mercury. At certain level, the metal can permanently damage the developing n ervous system in fet uses and children. Women of childbearing ages, pregnant women and young children have long been warned of the risk.

The EWG advises pregnant women against eating Shark, Swordfish, King mackerel, Tilefish, Tuna steaks, canned tuna, Sea bass, Gulf Coast Oysters, Marlin, Halibut, Pike, Walleye, White croaker, and Largemouth bass. The first four types of f ish are also in the not-to-eat list of the government, which contain indisputably highest levels of mercury.

The Consumer Reports captioned pregnant women against eating canned light tuna of any type as a great deal of uncertainty of the safety of f etuses' exposure to such high levels of mercury ingested remains. But it does not suggest other groups including young children and women of childbearing ages to completely avoid canned light tuna.

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