Consumer Reports: Avoid eating tuna

Consumer Reports on Tuesday warned pregnant women to avoid eating tuna, after the popular U.S. magazine detected trace amounts of methylmercury in all 42 samples of canned and pouched tuna it tested.

However, none of the samples Consumer Reports tested exceeded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s allowable limit of 1 part per million (ppm) of mercury. Samples of white (albacore) tuna contained 0.217 to 0.774 ppm of mercury and averaged 0.427 ppm, while samples of light (skipjack) tuna contained 0.018 to 0.176 ppm and averaged 0.071 ppm.

Consumer Reports claimed that by eating 2.5 ounces (about half a can) of tuna, a woman of childbearing age would exceed the daily mercury intake that the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe.

“Canned tuna, especially white, tends to be high in mercury, and younger women and children should limit how much they eat. As a precaution, pregnant women should avoid tuna entirely,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, based in Yonkers, N.Y.

The National Fisheries Institute immediately shot back, calling the “scare” report a “disservice” by exaggerating the health risk associated with mercury in fish. The McLean, Va.-based organization said the report is simply a retread of a 2006 report that also cautioned pregnant women to avoid eating tuna.

“Peer-reviewed science shows that pregnant women who limit or avoid seafood may actually be introducing risks from omega-3 deficiency. Advising pregnant women to cut canned tuna completely out of their diet and for others to limit their consumption is irresponsible,” said NFI in advisory to its industry members.

The 2004 joint FDA-EPA advisory warns pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of childbearing age and young children to limit consumption of albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week and to avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish due to concerns about mercury, a neurotoxin. The advisory has been criticized by industry as vague and confusing to consumers who don’t realize that it applies only to at-risk populations such as pregnant women.

The report appears in the January issue of Consumer Reports.

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