Mercury in Tuna Still Poses Risks

In 2008, we wrote that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its position on seafood and mercury saying the benefits of seafood outweigh its mercury risks and that people should eat fish regardless of mercury concerns. Now, says Consumer Reports, the amount of <"">mercury found in canned tuna, which it describes as “Americans’ favorite fish,” can be dangerous to certain populations.

According to a review of 42 samples of canned tuna and tuna packaged in pouches—which were purchased primarily in the New York metropolitan area and online—confirmed that more mercury can be found in white—also known as albacore—tuna, versus light tuna, said Consumer Reports. Worse, because of the amount of mercury found in just one serving of tuna, vulnerable groups such as children and women of childbearing age, can easily ingest higher levels of mercury than is considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wrote Consumer Reports.

In early 2004, the FDA and EPA issued advice to pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant, and young children about mercury, describing which fish and shellfish to avoid, reduce, and limit.

Consumer Reports explained that one serving of tuna weighs about 2.5 ounces and that a five-ounce can contains about four ounces of tuna, in addition to liquid.

Mercury accumulates in tuna and fish, in general, in methylmercury, a particularly toxic form of the metal that originates in mercury and is “released by coal-fired power plants and other industrial or natural sources, such as volcanoes,” said Consumer Reports.

For vulnerable groups—fetuses, nursing mothers, pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and children—fish with lower mercury levels and with omega-3 fatty acids should be considered as an easy alternative, said Consumer Reports.

The Consumer Reports testing, which was conducted externally, found that all of the samples tested contained measurable mercury levels from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million (ppm). The FDA can legally move to have products containing 1 ppm and more removed from store shelves, although it never has, said Consumer Reports, citing an FDA spokesman.

The samples of white tuna tested by Consumer Reports were found to contain from 0.217 to 0.774 ppm of mercury, with an average 0.427 ppm. This means that a woman in a vulnerable group who eats any 2.5 ounces of tuna from the samples tested, would exceed the daily mercury levels deemed safe by the EPA, said Consumer Reports.

Light tuna samples contained 0.018 to 0.176 ppm, with a 0.071-ppm average, which means that the same woman eating 2.5 ounces of light tuna might not exceed EPA limits, said Consumer Reports. Of note, if she ate five ounces, she would exceed the EPA limit for mercury in her demographic.

The Consumer Reports noted that it urged the FDA to issue consumer warnings about the spikes in mercury levels that can occur in canned light tuna; however, no warning has been issued in the four years since the original request was made.

The EPA has said that high mercury levels can damage major organs as well as the immune system, especially in the developing fetus.

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