FDA to conduct survey testing mercury levels in seafood

FDA to conduct survey testing mercury levels in seafood

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants a better understanding of the mercury levels in seafood products available to American consumers, and it’s conduct an extensive survey to gather that data.

The agency is looking for a contractor to execute the survey on behalf of its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, testing approximately 600 seafood products for mercury and methyl mercury, according to a 7 June notice.

Products to be tested include shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, Alaska pollock, cod, crab, catfish, pangasius, scallops, and canned jack mackerel. The contractor will need to collect 50 samples of each category from a variety of sources, including online retailers, independent markets, and national supermarket chains, from at least two major U.S. cities. The contractor will also collect random additional samples to meet the 600 sample threshold.

The FDA said the survey will not be used for direct regulatory action, but it will inform how the agency makes decisions “about scientific issues associated with food safety problems and to guide policy.”

The FDA previously operated a monitoring program to track mercury concentrations in fish from 1990 to 2010.

The new survey is part of a broader government-wide effort to update federal advice on how much seafood pregnant women and children should consume.

In 2004, the agency issued a notice advising pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid eating fish with higher levels of mercury. An updated guide  lists king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, bigeye tuna, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico as fish to avoid.

Now the agency is looking to update that advice.

Last year, the FDA tasked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) with conducting an independent study to determine seafood’s role in child development. The study will support the FDA’s Closer to Zero Action Plan, which aims to reduce the exposure of babies and young children to mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium.

“Seafood is part of a healthy eating pattern and provides key nutrients during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and/or early childhood to support a child’s brain, spinal cord, and immune system development,” the agency said in announcing the new study. “At the same time, seafood is the primary dietary source of mercury, which is spread throughout the environment by both natural and human-made processes. Mercury can damage the nervous system, and babies and young children are more vulnerable to the harmful health effects of mercury.”

The study – which was expected to be completed within 18 months – will be used by the agency to determine whether updates to its advice are warranted. The FDA also noted at the time that it would be looking for updated data on mercury levels in seafood.

“We will use updated analytical methods to collect and analyze new data on the mercury content of seafood,” the agency said. “We also plan to conduct research with consumers to better understand how the FDA can provide information that may help families consider how to make seafood part of a healthy diet.”

Photo courtesy of PR Image Factory/Shutterstock


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