FDA has new advice for pregnant women eating fish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued a joint draft of new dietary guidelines encouraging pregnant women to eat up to four times more fish than they do.

The advisory, issued today, is targeting “pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant and young children,” and reflects statements by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to the Associated Press on 2 June that the FDA was revising its guidelines on eating fish.

The new guidelines do not change the cautions published in the 2010 Dieteary Guidelines for Americans, and still warn pregnant women to eat fish “that is lower in mercury,” but the new guidelines also emphasize the health benefits of eating fish.

“Previously, the FDA and the EPA recommended maximum amounts of fish that these population groups should consume, but did not promote a minimum amount,” the FDA wrote in its guidelines. “Over the past decade, however, emerging science has underscored the importance of appropriate amounts of fish in the diets of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and young children.”

The new advice acknowledges that previous advice might have driven pregnant women away from fish altogether, and now recommends eating at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces per week “to support fetal growth and development.”

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

The new advice still echoes the 2010 guidelines, warning pregnant women against eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish caught in the Gulf of Mexico, and limiting albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week.

The advice released today also said, however, that shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod are considered low-mercury products and safe to eat.

The U.S. National Fisheries Institute, in a statement, welcomed the proposed new guidelines, saying the FDA “clears the water on outdated seafood guidance for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

“FDA is working to translate years of important nutrition science into updated advice, and that’s exciting,” said NFI’s Jennifer McGuire. “Expectant moms and health professionals alike have been confused about seafood advice during pregnancy and FDA has begun the process of setting the record straight that fish should be a pregnancy staple.”

The government will provide opportunities for the public to respond to the proposed new guidelines by submitting comments to the federal register. To learn more on how to participate, visit www.federalregister.gov.


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