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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Check which fish have high-levels and low-levels of mercury

By Marla Cone, Editor in Chief, Environmental Health News

Cheezburger animated GIFFederal officials on June 10, 2014 announced major changes in advice to pregnant and breastfeeding women by recommending consumption of at least 8 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” Nancy Stoner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water said in a statement. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”

Under the long-awaited, proposed new guidelines, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to eat a minimum of 8 ounces and no more than 12 ounces of fish with low levels of mercury, including shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.

It is the first time that the EPA and Food and Drug Administration have issued advice on the minimum amount of fish that pregnant women should eat. The previous advice, issued in 2004, included only maximum amounts to protect their fetuses from the harmful effects of mercury.

As in the old recommendations, pregnant and nursing women are told to avoid high mercury fish: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark; swordfish and king mackerel.

The agencies also reiterated their specific recommendations for limits on albacore (or white) tuna: no more than 6 ounces a week. Advice about consumption of tuna has been highly controversial, with the fishing industry criticizing any recommended limits and health advocacy groups pushing for the FDA and EPA to add it to the list of fish to avoid.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the FDA and EPA earlier this year, saying that the 2004 advisory was out of date and that women should be advised to eat less mercury-contaminated fish. 

They also are seeking clearer recommendations and labels that are easier for women to understand.

Studies have linked pregnant women’s high mercury consumption in seafood to reduced IQs and memories and other neurological effects in their children The findings are largely based on two decades of tests of school children in the Faroe Islands, who were highly exposed in the womb through their mother's consumption of whale meat.

At the same time, research has shown that fish consumption provides vital nutrients, Omega-3 fatty acids, for fetal brain growth.

FDA officials said their analysis of data from more than 1,000 pregnant women found that 21 percent ate no fish in the previous month. Those who did, ate less than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend.

Before finalizing the rules, the two agencies plan to hold public meetings and will solicit comments for 30 days.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author's name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN's version.


For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.