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Advocacy Arm of Consumer Reports Advises All Pregnant Women To Avoid Tuna

The Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration recently proposed a minimum weekly level for fish consumption for the first time. Women who are pregnant, breast-feeding or trying to become pregnant, it said, should eat up to 12 ounces of fish per week. There is a big problem with that since mercury is abundant in many types of fish and no level has been found safe to be transferred from mother to fetus.

“We're particularly concerned about canned tuna, which is second only to shrimp as the most commonly eaten seafood in the United States,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We encourage pregnant women to avoid all tuna.”

The National Fisheries Institute obviously went on the defensive since they represents corporate giants in seafood and restaurant industries, disputing the findings by Consumer Reports, saying the publication's warning flies in the face of independent, peer-reviewed science.

The FDA's new recommendation comes after an FDA study revealed one in five women were avoiding fish during pregnancy. More women are becoming informed and educated on the dangerous of consuming high-mercury fish.

EU's food safety authorities have warned that pregnant women should limit consumption of swordfish and tuna due to high mercury levels which can cause brain damage in unborn children.

People are exposed to methylmercury primarily through their diet, especially through the consumption of fish and other marine species, as well as through the consumption of rice when it is grown in a methylmercury-rich environment.

In sufficient doses, methylmercury can affect the developing nervous system in the developing fetus and in growing children. In adults, elevated methylmercury exposure can lead to neurological problems, such as memory loss and tremors. Recent studies show that methylmercury exposures can also lead to cardiovascular and immune effects.

Research in Environment International Journal shows that women with higher levels of mercury exposure are more than twice as likely to have elevated levels of antibodies that are associated with autoimmune disorders such as arthritis and lupus.

The FDA lists on its Web site the average amount of mercury found in different types of fish. Most types of tuna have relatively high mercury levels. Unfortunately, according to Consumer Reports, the FDA may be underestimating the danger.

When the magazine analyzed the FDA's data, they found 20 percent of the light canned tuna samples tested since 2005 have almost twice as much mercury as what the FDA said is the average amount. Just as some samples have higher mercury than the average, some may have lower levels of mercury. But consumers can't know whether the cans of tuna they're buying might have an above average amount.

Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public health concern. In fact, pregnant women, children and women who might become pregnant to avoid the consumption of swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel because of their high methyl-mercury content. In addition to being toxic for humans, swordfish and many other species of fish are being caught in ways that are devastating ocean habitats and fisheries. Longline fishing, the fishing method used to catch swordfish, kills thousands of sea turtles per year. Use our mercury calculator to find out how much mercury is in your fish.

“The brain undergoes a series of complex developmental stages that need to be completed in the right sequence and at the right time,” according to Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He told Consumer Reports that the mercury in fish consumed by the mother could reach the fetus within hours and do permanent damage.

What isn't contested: Like other large fish, tuna absorb a type of mercury called methylmercury, a product of industrial pollution, in their fatty tissues.

What is: Whether it's really safe to eat tuna.

This isn't the first time Consumer Reports has flagged the issue. They issued similar warnings in 2006 and 2011.


Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.

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