Consumer magazine warns against canned tuna

Pregnant women in the U.S. are being advised to avoid eating canned tuna because it may contain harmful levels of mercury.

Consumer Reports is a magazine aimed at the American consumer and is recommending far more caution than suggested by the U.S. government.

According to the magazine, government tests found instances when canned light tuna had as much of the potentially harmful heavy metal as white tuna, which is called albacore.

The Food and Drug Administration has said that high levels of mercury in the bloodstream may harm developing nervous systems and fish and shellfish are the main sources of mercury exposure for humans.

As far back as March 2004, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency were recommending that women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, nursing or feeding a young child should eat no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) of albacore tuna a week.

But the government also says it is safe to eat up to 12 ounces (340 grams), the amount of fish in two meals, per week of fish and shellfish low in mercury, such as shrimp, salmon, light tuna, catfish and pollock.

However Consumer Reports says 6 percent of canned light tuna tested by the FDA contained at least as much of the metal and in some cases more than twice as much, as the average can of albacore.

Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine says because of concerns that both types of tuna showed instances of higher levels of mercury, it decided to recommend pregnant women eat neither.

The FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has apparently told the magazine there is no significant risk from the occasional can with higher levels of mercury.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2005. 29[4] 325-334) has published a study concluding that if all adults reduced their fish consumption by 17 percent, an additional 9,500 would die from vascular disease.

The U.S. Tuna Foundation trade group (USTF), has accused the magazine of over-reacting to a minor problem and paying the public a great disservice.

The foundation says the health benefits of seafood easily outweigh the risk posed by "trace amounts of mercury" and that view is supported by sound scientific research.

As the foundation says fish plays a prominent role in the USDA's Food Pyramid for its nutrition and health benefits.

It is a healthy source of lean protein affordable for all and is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.

The U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) was established in 1976 to represent the various interests of the U.S. canned tuna industry, and the international and domestic interests of the industry on numerous issues from fishing access arrangements, to federal and state regulations, to national legislation, to domestic marketing.

Dr. Louis Sullivan, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, has publicly warned that those at the highest risk for stroke and heart disease will increase their risk if they stop or significantly reduce the amount of fish they eat.

Consumer Reports said the higher levels of mercury sometimes found in canned tuna might come from yellowfin tuna, which tends to carry more mercury than skipjack, which is usually used in light tuna.

Consumer Reports said its story, which includes suggestions of seafoods low in mercury, would be available on the Internet at http://www.ConsumerReports.org.

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